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Baking the past – the Iron Age bread buns from Niederkaina

Updated: Nov 23, 2022

The Archäotechnisches Zentrum Welzow e.V. contributes to the Year On The Field with an experimental project about Early Iron Age food, bread and buns. The evidence and the starting point of the research are the archaeobotanical analysis of the food remains from the archaeological site of Niederkaina (Bautzen, Saxony, Germany).

Out of 1200 Iron Age burials, 95 delivered carbonized food remains. Most of them are fragmented, but many are in a very good conservation status so that it was possible to undertake botanical analysis of 150 samples. There are many different types of remains: very often we have remains of flatbread and porridge, but also bread loaves, bread buns and noodles. Food remains are extreme rare to be found in the archaeological records but are very important because they give insights of the food culture of the time and help to understand how the prehistorical people processed their crops and how food was made.

In at least 36 graves have been found fermented baked goods. Two graves delivered almost complete, carbonized round buns. The archaeological record pointed out clearly that the Iron Age population of Niederkaina possessed a good know-how of the processing of cereal because the buns are of very high baking quality. The grains have been cleaned thoroughly and hand-milled to get a high-quality fine whole grain flour.

Carbonized bread buns (Herbig C., Kaiser J., Manschus G., 2016, 522) © Landesamt für Archäologie Sachsen. [Aufnahme: C. Herbig]

From the macro- and microscopical analysis emerged that the buns were made mostly of emmer but other cereals such as wheat have been found in minor amounts as well. These results are interesting because at the time wheat was not a common crop in central eastern Europe. That is why we assume that the use of wheat in these specifical contexts must have clearly had a significance.

The ATZ Welzow started an experimental project to investigate how these buns were made. The focus was especially on which leavening agent could have been used and how the buns could have been baked.

We used and four different leavening agents: sour dough, wild yeast, potash and sour whey.

We then baked our buns in three different ways: in a reconstructed model oven, on a ceramic baking plate and in a clay oven.

Baking process. Sour dough and wild yeast buns baking in a model oven (right) and over a ceramic baking plate (left). [Foto: J. Kaiser, ATZ Welzow]
Baking process. Sour whey and potash buns are shoved into the clay oven. [Foto: ATZ Welzow]

The results of our experimental project will be presented at the EXAR conference (September 29th - October 2nd 2022, Archäologisches Landesmuseum Brandenburg, Brandenburg an der Havel, Germany) and at our Museum (November 17th 2022, Archäotechnisches Zentrum Welzow, Welzow, Germany).

Maddalena Sartori

ATZ Welzow


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