Ancient Cheerios Discovered at Bronze Age Site Might Have Been Used in Unknown Ritual

Researchers have discovered several strange ring-shaped objects at a Bronze Age hill fort in Europe which, they say, are an ancient type of cereal-based product. The shape is reminiscent of the popular Cheerios breakfast cereal.

While archaeological excavations around the world have revealed an array of agricultural practices used by humans throughout history, we know much less about how exactly food was produced and prepared by ancient cultures—a process that the latest findings cast new light on.

In a study published in the journal PLOS ONE, a team of archaeologists describe the discovery of the unusual cereal-derived rings, which were found at a site known as Stillfried an der March in eastern Austria.

It is thought that the hill fort was an important center for the storage of grain between around 900 to 1,000 years B.C., as evidenced by the presence of about 100 pits—which served as silos—as well as other archaeological materials.

"Stillfried seems to have been a major trade post during the Late Bronze Age, and definitely a central place of cereal storage and trade," Andreas Heiss, lead author of the study from the Austrian Archaeological Institute, told Newsweek.

At the site, Heiss and his colleagues found the charred remains of three ring-shaped objects—each of which measures just an over an inch across—in one of the cereal storage pits.

"Three charred ring-shaped objects were found, consisting of dough made with wheat, barley and fine flour," Heiss said. "If in search for modern counterparts, the rings most likely resembled modern tarallini (from southern Italy) or sushki (from Russia)."

The team's analysis indicated that the finished product was most probably shaped using a wet cereal mixture and dried without baking. The rings were also found alongside similarly ring-shaped clay loom weights.

The researchers say that the context in which the cereal rings were found, and the time consuming process required to make them, suggests that they may have been created for some unknown ritual purpose and, perhaps, weren't intended to be eaten at all.

"Although the rings were food items, the overall unusual find assemblage suggests that there must have been some further symbolic meaning to them—the assemblage had been deliberately deposited," Heiss said. "Furthermore, the similarity in shape between the functional clay rings and the dough rings suggests that maybe the latter had been imitations of the clay loom weights."

The latest findings expand the list of ways that ancient cultures in this time period are known to have used cereal products—the remains of which are rare.

"Although the purpose of the dough rings is currently not known, they can certainly serve as a document of a much more variable—and perhaps playful— prehistoric cuisine than had previously been thought," Heiss said. "A lot of time and 'craftsmanship' had been invested in the making of these objects."

"Another implication is also that archaeologists need to be more aware of the possibility of the preservation of such fragile objects, and that in excavations we always have to consider that some charred objects will only survive excavation if they are directly sampled, and carefully treated," he said.

Bronze Age cereal products
The ring-shaped objects discovered at Stillfried an der March in eastern Austria. Heiss et al, 2019