Archaeologists have uncovered a 3,000-year-old bakery in Metsamor, Armenia, astonishingly, still housing several sacks worth of flour embedded in the soil. The discovery was made within the remnants of a large structure, housing multiple ovens, which had succumbed to a fire.
The Transition of Space: From Public Function to Bakery
“The flour has been preserved in the form of bright spots. At first glance, it looked like light burned ash. Thanks to flotation (rinsing) we proved that it is flour, not ash,” reported the head of research, Professor Krzysztof Jakubiak from the Faculty of Archaeology of the University of Warsaw.
The flour had formed a layer several dozen centimeters thick. It is estimated that up to 3.5 tonnes of flour was originally stored in the building. Unfortunately, only a few sacks worth of organic material has survived over the centuries. It was primarily wheat flour that was used, and quantities point to large-scale production and a certain culture of bread making within the region, both at a micro and macro level.
The white area is compressed flour dating back 3,000 years. Source: Patrick Okrajek / Nauka W Polsce
Similar discoveries of flour have been made in the wider Armenian region, such as the fortress settlement of Tejszebaini (currently known as Karmir Blur), which belonged to the ancient Urartu kingdom. The Caucasus region has a history of using flour for divination purposes, which could potentially alter the interpretation of the building’s function, but this remains to be examined further.
The palatial-sized structure was in use from the end of the 11 th century BC right up until the beginning of the 9 th century BC, functioning initially as a public building. Later on, with furnaces being added, the building took on an economic role – a communal space where people used wheat flour to bake bread. Eventually, a fire led to the collapse of the structure, reports The Miami Herald . Perhaps there were several other transitionary periods in the middle, but this is unclear as of now.
All in all, the building consisted of two rows of 18 wooden columns which supported a reed roof with a wooden entablature. The wooden elements have not survived the ravages of time, but the stone column bases and well-preserved burnt fragments of beams and roof plating have, giving a glimpse into the original construction.
“It is therefore one of the oldest known constructions of this type from the areas of the South Caucasus and eastern Anatolia. Its remains have survived so well only thanks to the ancient fire that brought an end to this object,” added Professor Jakubiak.
Metsamor: Ancient Defensive Settlement and Site
The Polish-Armenian archaeological team uncovered the flour-filled structure within Metsamor, an internationally renowned archaeological site located a few dozen kilometers west of Yerevan. This site dates back to the 4th millennium BC and was initially established as a defensive settlement. The city was continuously inhabited from the 4th millennium B.C. until the 17th century. In the Araksu Valley, it remained an important cultural and political center until the 17th century.
Metsamor archaeological site, Armenia. (CC by SA)
During its existence, Metsamor covered an area of approximately 10 hectares. The city was dominated by a fortified fortress, surrounded by temple complexes with seven sanctuaries, while the flour-filled building was situated in the lower city, outside the primary fortification network.
The identity of the settlement’s inhabitants during that period remains uncertain, as there are no written records available. However, it is believed that Metsamor was part of a proto-state tribal group. In the 8th century BC, Metsamor became a part of the Urartu Kingdom , also known as the biblical kingdom of Ararat, following its conquest by King Argiszti I.
The research project at Metsamor was a joint effort involving the Faculty of Archaeology at the University of Warsaw, the Center for Mediterranean Archaeology at the University of Warsaw, and the Department of Antiquity and Protection of National Heritage of Armenia. It has been led by Professor Ashot Piliposjan from the Armenian side, according to a press release by Science in Poland (PAP) .
By Sahir Pandey