Historians posit that bacon as we know it first became a staple of Western diets sometime in the 1600s, but a recent archaeological discovery (just in time for Bacon Lover’s Day) in the Austrian lakeside town of Hallstatt suggests that cured pork has been a part of European history for centuries before the city of Rome was even founded.
On Friday, the Vienna Museum of Natural History announced that it had identified DNA evidence of more than 6,000 pig bones at what appears to be a pre-Roman slaughterhouse. While the discovery of slaughtered pigs dating to antiquity is nothing new, a key difference in the preparation process points to the near-prehistoric cultivation of bacon. Hans Reschreiter, who manages the excavation and research process for Hallstatt’s mines, notes that the pigs were castrated and methodically carved, with their meat left to dry and cure in caves.
Given its history, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that this area of Austria was at the forefront of pork belly innovation. Hallstatt has been a hub of activity ever since its underground network of tunnels were carved by hand more than 3,000 years ago. The area is also home to Europe’s oldest wooden staircase, and its underground salt reserves (which may have played a role in the ancient pork preservation process) have fueled the region’s economy for millennia.
This development upends our historical understanding of bacon and its place in Europe. We know that Romans had an appetite for cured pork (known as petaso), which they fried with figs and likely didn’t serve as a salty breakfast. There’s no speculation as of yet about how early Austrians might have enjoyed this speck, but hopefully this surprising discovery leads to more research into some of the world’s earliest recorded dining habits.