4,000-Year-Old Noodles Found in China

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Additional evidence is needed to prove that the noodles found at Lajia are the ancestor of either Asian noodles or Italian pasta. "But in any case, the latter is only documented two millennia later," Lu said.

Gary Crawford, an archaeologist at the University of Toronto at Mississauga in Canada, said finding 4,000-year-old noodles in China is not a surprise.

"It fits with what we've generally known—that noodles have a long and important history in China," he said.

Ingredient Sleuthing

To determine what the noodles were made from, Lu and colleagues compared the shape and patterning of the starch grains and seed husks in the noodle bowl with modern crops.

The team concluded the noodles were made from two kinds of millet—broomcorn millet and foxtail millet. The grain was ground into flour to make dough, which was then likely pulled and stretched into shape.

Foxtail millet alone, the researchers say, lacks the stickiness required to allow the dough to be pulled and stretched into strings.

While archaeological evidence suggests wheat was present in China 4,000 years ago, it was not widely cultivated until the Tang Dynasty (A.D. 618 to 907), Lu said.

According to Crawford, the fact that the noodles were made of millet is not surprising. His own research at a similarly dated site in northern China shows ample millet and rice but very little wheat.

However, he added, the discovery of well-preserved millet noodles helps explain the lack of grain seeds found at some archaeological sites.

"One suspicion is grain seeds were made into a type of food through boiling and flour production. That would not necessarily leave much in the way of grains to be … recovered," he said. " … and if they were making noodles, that would explain it."

According to Lu, in poor, rural areas of northwestern China, millet is still used to make noodles.

"These modern millet noodles have a harder texture than the wheat noodles, so they are commonly called iron-wire noodles," he said.

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