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Making Bread from a 2,000 Year Old Recipe


As part of the British Museum’s Pompeii Live film promotion, they posted the following on their website:

In AD 79, a baker put his loaf of bread into the oven. Nearly 2,000 years later it was found during excavations in Herculaneum. The British Museum asked Giorgio Locatelli to recreate the recipe as part of his culinary investigations for Pompeii Live.



Along with a video of Locatelli recreating the loaf, they even include a more modern recipe so that you can try it yourself. Which is good because the baker never cuts into the loaf or tastes the fruits of his labors.

I’m really intrigued by the indentation along the circumference of the loaf. Locatelli believes a string may have been tied around the loaf as a carrying handle after it was baked. You could buy a trussed up loaf at a street market and carry it home on your wrist like a purse. The baker’s mark in the bread is also a fascinating embellishment. Early product branding.

Here’s the recipe:


  1. 400g biga acida (sourdough)
  2. 12g yeast
  3. 18g gluten
  4. 24g salt
  5. 532g water
  6. 405g spelt flour
  7. 405g wholemeal flour

Melt the yeast into the water and add it into the biga. Mix and sieve the flours together with the gluten and add to the water mix. Mix for two minutes, add the salt and keep mixing for another three minutes. Make a round shape with it and leave to rest for one hour. Put some string around it to keep its shape during cooking. Make some cuts on top before cooking to help the bread rise in the oven and cook for 30–45 minutes at 200 degrees.

Note: This recipe differs from the one in the video (which I assume is the actual recipe derived from investigating the loaf). In the video, Locatelli uses only buckwheat flour, biga acida, and salt water in his recipe.


Gareth Branwyn is a freelance writer and the former Editorial Director of Maker Media. He is the author or editor of over a dozen books on technology, DIY, and geek culture. He is currently a contributor to Boing Boing, Wink Books, and Wink Fun. And he has a new best-of writing collection and “lazy man’s memoir,” called Borg Like Me.

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