A 4,000-year-old bowl of noodles unearthed in China in October 12, 2005 was the earliest example ever found of one of the world's most popular foods, suggesting an Asian-not Italian-origin for the staple dish.

The beautifully preserved, long, thin yellow noodles were found inside an overturned sealed bowl at the Lajia archaeological site in northwestern China. The bowl was buried under ten feet (three meters) of sediment.

The scientists determined the noodles were made from two kinds of millet, a grain indigenous to China and widely cultivated there 7,000 years ago. Modern North American and European noodles are usually made with wheat.

Archaeochemist Patrick McGovern at the University of Pennsylvania’s Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology in Philadelphia said that if the date for the noodles is correct, the find is “quite amazing.”
Even today, deft skills are required to make long, thin noodles like those found at Lajia.

Noodles have been a staple food in many parts of the world for at least 2,000 years, though whether the modern version of the stringy pasta was first invented by the Chinese, Italians, or Arabs is debatable.

Prior to the discovery of noodles at the Lajia archaeological site, the earliest record of noodles appears in a book written during China’s East Han Dynasty sometime between A.D. 25 and 220.

Other theories suggest noodles were first made in the Middle East and introduced to Italy by the Arabs. Italians are widely credited for popularizing the food in Europe and spreading it around the world.

To determine what the noodles were made from, Houyuan Lu of Beijing’s Chinese Academy of Sciences and colleagues compared the shape and patterning of the starch grains and seed husks in the noodle bowl with modern crops.

The team concluded the noodles were made from two kinds of millet-broomcorn millet and foxtail millet. The grain was ground into flour to make dough, which was then likely pulled and stretched into shape. Foxtail millet alone, the researchers say, lacks the stickiness required to allow the dough to be pulled and stretched into strings.

Article from National Geographic