28 May 2024 The Future is the Product of the Past

People may have been cooking curries in South-East Asia for at least 2000 years

Archaeologists have found remnants of eight spices on a sandstone slab from an archaeological site in Vietnam, showing the early adoption of ingredients and techniques from South Asia.

Unearthed in an ancient village in southern Vietnam, the cookware—roughly the size and shape of an anvil—was likely used to grind the spice and other ingredients familiar in today’s curries.

Dishes that are rich in flavor and aroma from combinations of spices such as earthy turmeric, warm cloves, and sharp ginger—commonly known as curries in the West—have starred in cuisines throughout South and Southeast Asia, from India to Indonesia, for centuries.

The discovery, reported today in Science Advances, marks the earliest known example of spice processing in mainland Southeast Asia.. It also suggests that millennia ago, visitors from India and Indonesia may have brought their culinary traditions to the region.

During their digs at the Oc Eo archaeological site in southern Vietnam, Hsiao-Chun Hung at the Australian National University in Canberra and her colleagues uncovered several sandstone grinding tools alongside remnants of spices.

A sandstone grinding slab found at Oc Eo in Vietnam, on which traces of spices were identified. Photo: Khanh Trung Kien Nguyen
A sandstone grinding slab found at Oc Eo in Vietnam, on which traces of spices were identified. Photo: Khanh Trung Kien Nguyen

An analysis of 717 grains of starch recovered from the tools revealed the presence of eight different spices: turmeric, ginger, galangal, sand ginger, fingerroot, clove, nutmeg, and cinnamon. Many of the grains also showed signs of deformation, indicating that they had been damaged during grinding and resembled the starch granules found in modern curry powder.

Since Óc Eo was first excavated in the 1940s, it has yielded a large number of artifacts that suggest the city once lay at the crossroads of a vast trade network that spread as far as the Mediterranean Sea.

A maritime trade route that connected the Mediterranean Sea to China during the same time period as the renowned Silk Road has long been known to historians. The maritime route extended further south, connecting Southeast Asian, Iran, and modern-day Indian cultures. However, the majority of the evidence is based on written records, and the lack of physical evidence has made it difficult for researchers to verify these accounts.

“Before this study, we had only limited clues from ancient documents in India, China and Rome about the early spice trades,” says Australian National University archaeologist and study co-author Hsiao-Chun Hung. “However, this research is the first to confirm that these spices were indeed traded commodities that existed within the global maritime trading networks nearly 2,000 years ago.”

Though previous fragments discovered elsewhere predate the spices studied in the new study, the Óc Eo findings provide the first evidence that these spices were all used in Southeast Asia during this time period. The spice remains suggest that the stone mortars, pestles, and grinding slabs discovered there were most likely used for food preparation.

DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.adh55

Related Articles

Uncovering the ritual past of ancient mustatils: Cult, herding, and ‘pilgrimage’ in the Late Neolithic of north-west Arabia

16 March 2023

16 March 2023

Mustatils—stone monuments from the Late Neolithic period thought to have been used for ritual purposes—have been the subject of new...

Metal Detectorist Finds on 4,000-year-old Dagger in Poland Forests

24 February 2024

24 February 2024

A copper dagger more than 4,000 years old was found in a forest near the town of Jarosław on the...

In western Turkey, inscriptions and 2,500-year-old sculptures were found

11 July 2021

11 July 2021

Two 2,500-year-old marble statues and an inscription have been found during excavations at the ancient city of Euromos, in Turkey’s...

“Human evolution” Migration out of Africa was affected by climate constraints.

25 August 2021

25 August 2021

The story of modern man’s migration from Africa still remains unclear in many aspects. Why did people migrate? Is it...

In Medieval burial ground, a rare embroidered Deisis depicting Jesus Christ was discovered

26 February 2023

26 February 2023

Russian archaeologists have uncovered a rare embroidered Deisis depicting Jesus Christ in a medieval burial ground. 46 graves have been...

Ancient winery site uncovered in China’s Hebei

5 January 2022

5 January 2022

In northern China’s Hebei region, an ancient winery going back 400 years to the late Ming and early Qing Dynasties...

Water Cultu in Hittites and Eflatunpınar Hittite Water Monument

4 February 2021

4 February 2021

The Hittites, which left their mark on the Bronze Age period in Anatolia, is a society that draws attention with...

At Göbeklitepe, believed to be the earliest known Mesolithic temple complex, grinding stones were discovered

26 October 2022

26 October 2022

A recent discovery at Göbeklitepe, the oldest known Mesolithic temple complex, has revealed grinding stones, new finds expected to shed...

The Worst Torture Device in History “Brazen Bull”

2 February 2021

2 February 2021

Agrigentum Tyranny today is in the provincial borders of Agrigento in the Sicily Autonomous Region in the southwest of Sicily....

A woman was buried in a canoe on her way to the ‘destination of souls’ 800 years ago

25 August 2022

25 August 2022

According to new research, Up to 800 years ago, mourners buried a young woman in a ceremonial canoe to represent...

Japan-Persia Ancient Ties

20 June 2021

20 June 2021

Japanese and Persian ancient ties go back to the 7th century. Silk Road connected Japan with countries and regions far...

Archaeologists in Peru discover a mummy tied with 800-year-old ropes

28 November 2021

28 November 2021

On Peru’s central coast, archaeologists discovered a mummy estimated to be at least 800 years old. The mummy’s body was...

How Knossos Palace Looked in Its Glorious Days

9 May 2021

9 May 2021

Knossos Palace is a famous architectural structure of ancient Knossos, which was the capital of the Minoan Civilization. Archaeologist Arthur...

Archaeological excavations started again after 50 years in Tunceli Tozkoparan mound

28 June 2021

28 June 2021

Archaeological excavations at the Tozkoparan Mound in Turkey’s Tunceli province are anticipated to turn the city into one of eastern...

The free online course from the Colchester Museums and University of Reading Department of Archeology

12 July 2021

12 July 2021

The opportunity to be among the first to examine 2,000-year-old cremated remains from Roman Britain and learn about the origins...