A 4,000-year-old bowl of noodles has been discovered at an archaeological site in western China, possible proof for the argument that China invented pasta before Italy. "These are definitely the earliest noodles ever found," said Lu Houyuan, a researcher with the Institute of Geology in Beijing.
The discovery of the delicate yellow noodles in Minhe County in China's western province of Qinghai is reported in this week's edition of Nature magazine.
"Chinese people say Marco Polo brought noodles from China back to Italy and Italians say they had noodles before that," Lu said. "All this has been based on documentary material, on personal accounts and menus. But we've been unable to find any actual material, until now."
The fist-size clump of noodles was found inside an overturned bowl under three meters (10 feet) of sediment from a flood that researchers suspect wiped out the Qijia Culture of the Late Neolithic era.
When researchers lifted up the bowl, they discovered the 50-centimeter-long (20-inch-long) noodles sitting atop an inverted cone of clay that had sealed the bowl, it said.
The noodles were made from a dough of two local varieties of millet, broomcorn and foxtail millet, rather than the more common wheat or rice. The dough was pulled into long strands before being boiled.
Rice noodles are popular in southern China while northerners rely heavily on wheat to make their noodles, dumplings and bread.
The area where the excavation site is located is now populated mainly by China's ethnic Muslim Hui minority. The region's poorer farmers reportedly still eat millet noodles, said contributing researcher Ye Maoling, though he has yet to try them for himself.
Lu and Ye say they plan to eventually try making millet noodles like those found at the Lajia archaeological site themselves.