Ring-shaped objects discovered at the site of Stillfried an der March

Blackened objects discovered in a prehistoric pit are the remnants of rings of dough. The pit also held clay rings that were probably weights used for weaving. Credit: Heiss et al., 2019

Archaeology

Mystery of the ‘mini bagels’ found in rubble at ancient fort

Odd chunks of dough might have had a ceremonial purpose.

Researchers combing through a prehistoric pit have discovered objects simultaneously strange and familiar: pieces of dough almost 3,000 years old that look like chunks of miniature bagels.

The pit, which lies in the grounds of a Bronze Age fort in what is now Austria, mainly holds broken pots and other debris. But Andreas Heiss at the Austrian Archaeological Institute in Vienna and his colleagues also found three charred items made from barley- and wheat-based flour. Ancient hands had mixed the flour into dough and shaped the dough into rings roughly 3 centimetres across.

The rings were probably not meant to be eaten, but their actual purpose is a mystery. They resemble clay rings called loom weights, which weavers used for millennia to keep their threads taut. The pit that held the dough rings also contained loom weights, and the researchers propose that the doughy version could have had a ritual function.