Component and simulation of the 4,000-year-old noodles excavated from the archaeological site of Lajia in Qinghai, China


Noodles are a global food, but the periods when and places where they were made and originated, as well as their ingredients and the cooking methods used to manufacture them, have remained contentious. In the 2005 edition of the journal Nature, we wrote a summary of the millet noodle specimens found in the Late Neolithic Qijia cultural stratum of the Lajia archaeological site in Qinghai Province, China. However, how the ancient people made millet noodles remains controversial. This paper provides a systematic analysis of the remains of noodles found within an earthenware bowl at the Lajia “noodle house” in terms of their plant composition including phytoliths, starch and biomarkers. It provides evidence of how people used millet 4,000 years ago and, most specifically, of the principal methods used for producing millet-based noodles. Further, we show how we used traditional hele tools to make hele millet noodles, with especial reference to the gelatinized hydrogel-forming method, to simulate morphology consistent with the composition and form of the unearthed millet noodles. The results of this study provide new evidence and new insights into the cultural characteristics of the prehistoric human diet.

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We thank Jin Guiyun, Diao Xianmin for providing glutinous foxtail millet samples, and Wu Xiaohong, Qin Ling and Yuan Jing for their valuable suggestions and helpful discussions. Special thanks to Dr. Edward A. Derbyshire for helpful remarks and language correction. This work was supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (41230104), the National Science and Technology Major Project of China (2015CB953801), the Strategic Priority Research Program of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (XDA05130602) and the National Science and Technology Supporting Program of China (2013BAK08B02).

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Correspondence to Houyuan Lü.

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Lü, H., Li, Y., Zhang, J. et al. Component and simulation of the 4,000-year-old noodles excavated from the archaeological site of Lajia in Qinghai, China. Chin. Sci. Bull. 59, 5136–5152 (2014).

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  • Lajia site
  • Phytolith
  • Starch
  • Biomarkers
  • Origin of noodles
  • Millet noodles