Archeologists have discovered the burnt remains of a flatbread baked 14,400 years ago, more than 4,000 years before the advent of agriculture.
The findings, excavated in northeastern Jordan's Black Desert, reveal the oldest direct evidence of bread. Twenty four bread-like discoveries were found at two fireplaces in a Natufian hunter-gatherer site known as Shubayqa 1.
"The presence of hundreds of charred food remains in the fireplaces from Shubayqa 1 is an exceptional find, and it has given us the chance to characterize 14,000-year-old food practices," said University of Copenhagen archeobotanist Amaia Arranz Otaegui, the first author of the report.
"So now we know that bread-like products were produced long before the development of farming," said Otaegui, who added that the bread production could have contributed to the agricultural revolution of the Neolithic period.
The Neolithic flatbread -- known nowadays as pita or Arabic bread -- was made of domesticated cereals and club-rush tubers, according to the study released on Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal.
Prior to these findings, evidence of bread production was found in late Neolithic sites in Turkey and the Netherlands. The charred remains in Jordan are the first direct evidence that bread production preceded agriculture.
"Natufian hunter-gatherers are of particular interest to us because they lived through a transitional period when people became more sedentary and their diet began to change," said University of Copenhagen archeologist Tobias Richter, who led the excavations.
The authors of the report noted that cereal-based foodstuffs were difficult to make. Hunter-gatherers may have considered them luxury foods "employed to impress invited guests and secure prestige for the hosts."