Digging into the ruins of a large building in Armenia, archaeologists noticed something unusual. Pressed into the brown dirt was a layer of some dusty, white substance.
Initially, archaeologists at the Metsamor archaeological site thought the ashy material was just that: ashes, Science in Poland said in a May 12 news release. The substance was found scattered across the ruins of a large building with several furnaces.
The explanation made sense — at least at first glance.
But after testing the material, researchers realized it was actually preserved ancient flour, the excavation’s lead archaeologist Krzysztof Jakubiak told Science in Poland. Flour is rarely found at archaeological sites, but several sacks worth of flour were unearthed at the ruins, he said.
The unusual find led archaeologists to identify the ruined structure as a 3,000-year-old large-scale bakery, the release said.
The massive structure was used from the end of the 11th century B.C. until the beginning of the 9th century B.C., archaeologists said. Initially, it functioned as a public building. Later, furnaces were added, and the building took on an economic role as a place where people likely used wheat flour to bake bread.
Eventually, the structure collapsed due to a fire, the release said.
When archaeologists began excavations of the structure, they identified it as a public building, according to a 2022 news release from the Polish Centre of Mediterranean Archaeology at the University of Warsaw.
Still, the entire building has not yet been excavated and may hold more secrets for archaeologists to uncover, the release said.
The structure is in a portion of the Metsamor archaeological site known as the lower city, experts said. The lower city is outside the site’s main fortification network.
Metsamor is about 20 miles southwest of Yerevan, the capital of Armenia, and near the border with Turkey. The city was continuously inhabited from the 4th millennium B.C. until the 17th century, the release said.
The site’s ancient inhabitants remain a mysterious group of people. Archaeologists don’t know much about them except that they had no written language. Excavations of the oldest part of Metsamor — a walled settlement with a necropolis or cemetery — uncovered about 100 burials.
Many of these tombs were empty, having been looted at some point, but one couple’s untouched tomb contained several gold pendants and about 100 jewelry beads.
Metsamor expanded into a larger fortress surrounded by seven temple sanctuaries between the 11th and 9th centuries B.C. — about the same period as when the bakery was used, the release said. The city emerged as an economic, cultural and political center for the region.
Eventually, the city was conquered in the 8th century B.C. and became part of the Urartu kingdom, archaeologists said.
Excavations of Metsamor began in 1965 and are ongoing. The joint Polish-Armenian excavations began in 2013.
Google Translate was used to translate news releases from Science in Poland and the Polish Centre of Mediterranean Archaeology at the University of Warsaw.