Did Austrians invent bagels 3,000 years ago?

Parts of 3,000-year-old ring-shaped bread have been uncovered in a Bronze Age site near the border with Slovakia. But beware, no lox or cream cheese.

June 14, 2019 14:49
2 minute read.
A HOMEMADE bagel with fresh gravlax from ‘Modern Jewish Baker.’

A HOMEMADE bagel with fresh gravlax from ‘Modern Jewish Baker.’ . (photo credit: SHANNON SARNA)


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It is hard to pinpoint the precise moment when bagels, one of the quintessential symbols of Jewish food, or at least Ashkenazi food, were first invented. 

A new archeological discovery has added to the mystique: parts of 3,000-year-old ring-shaped bread have been found in Austria, The New York Times reported on Thursday.

And albeit a little smaller in size and charred, they look a lot like bagels.

The book The Bagel: The Surprising History of a Modest Bread by Maria Balinska, quoted in a piece by The Atlantic, includes several possibilities of when and how bagels made their debut in Jewish history.

According to one theory, bagels represented a Polish take on the pretzels that German immigrants brought to Poland in the fourteenth century. Another notion maintains that the iconic ring-shaped rolls were devised when a ban that forbade Jews from baking bread in the country was partially lifted in the 13th century: Jews could start baking bread that was boiled first, a signature mark of the bagels that we know today.

The new archeological findings from Austria do not mark the first time that ring-shaped bread remains were uncovered by researchers. The New York Times pointed out that similar discoveries dating from between 12,000 and 2,000 years ago had already occurred in Switzerland, Italy and Sweden.

However, the Austrian 3,000-year-old bread pieces do have something special: The researchers assessed that the pieces, which contained hulled barley, wheat and possibly other cereals, were made of finely-ground flour.

“These must have been important in some way. This is very fine quality flour, shaped very carefully, made with special ingredients. This is not what you would see in ordinary foods, and not like the foods we usually find,” the lead author of the study, Andreas G. Heiss, a postdoctoral fellow at the Austrian Archaeological Institute, told The New York Times, explaining that it was not clear whether the rings were meant for eating or for rituals. 

The researchers further determined that the bread parts found on the site, a Bronze Age fortification located near the Slovakian border, were baked at low temperature or air-dried.

Heiss told The New York Times that no traces of salt or added condiments were detected on them.

Apparently, for coming up with the idea of adding lox or cream cheese, our ancestors needed another couple of millennia.

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