Perhaps the ancient Egyptians’ belief in the afterlife was right all along.
A tweet from Seamus Blackley, a California-based physicist and inventor of the Xbox (he came up with the idea on a cross-country flight), is going viral for taking a bite of “the most delicious” bread. Not because of its light and airy crumb and sweet, brown sugarlike aroma — but because he baked it with 4,500-year-old yeast.
“It’s really weird, but a lot of nerdy men, people like me, are really into baking sourdough bread,” Blackley tells The Post. “This is a hobby — it’s amateur science, and our intention is to make really good bread and beer. So you can taste what it’s like to be [in ancient Egypt].”
For a few weeks, Blackley, 51, painstakingly detailed the incredibly scientific process on Twitter, from creating and feeding the starter to selecting the proper flour (einkorn, of course, to match what the Egyptians may have used).
The mission began because of another viral tweet from this past spring: Blackley baked some “ancient grains” for the “Game of Thrones” Season 8 premiere in April, with what he thought was 2,500-year-old spores, only to find out it all might have been a lie.
“I got the yeast from a friend who said it was from an ancient beer pot, but my wife was skeptical and asked me how do I really know it’s that old?’” Blackley said. “After that, I felt like I was misleading people. I’m trained in science, but I didn’t know where it really came from.”
But at this point, Blackley had already become a bit of an Internet-famous “bread nerd,” and so, through the mishap, he was able to team up with Serena Love, an Egyptologist and archaeologist, and Richard Bowman, an Iowa-based scientist. The team headed to Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts and Harvard’s Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology to try and raise the dead.
“I told them I want to use real and sterile lab techniques,” Blackley said. “I told them I want to do it exactly how they did in ancient Egypt, and they said, ‘F – – k yes, let’s go.’”
Love provided the access, Bowman the technique, and together the trio was able to withdraw what they hope is almost 5,000-year-old spores from ancient pottery. (The team is still testing to be sure of the exact age, but Blackley said the pottery was estimated to be around 4,500 years old or more.)
“It’s similar to fracking, but we don’t blow things up,” he says. “You pump a fluid in carefully with a syringe, and it soaks in, and you vacuum it back out. These microbes had been forced into the pottery while it was being used thousands of years ago.”
The coolest part, he says, is that an ancient Egyptian baker could have been baking with this yeast, and here we are using it again in 2019.
“A baker was in his shop with customers and payments and happiness and disputes, and now we’re using it again, carrying it on, and that’s f – – king cool,” he says.
Although Blackley has done more than what most people will do in a lifetime (building flight simulators, flying acrobatics in small aircraft), his true passion is baking bread.
“My mom was a really good home cook, and I had been baking my whole life, but picked it back up 10 years ago,” Blackley said. “It’s 100 percent technique and, depending on the flour and the moisture in the air, if you know what you’re doing and know how to adjust, you can make these incredible breads using simple ingredients.”
The ingredients are just water, flour, salt and a leavening agent, but it’s not as easy as it seems.
“One hundred percent whole-wheat bread is a goddamn work of art every time,” Blackley said. “It’s really hard and takes a lot of experience.”
Although Blackley is excited about this latest feat, he is anxiously awaiting the results of the testing to see exactly how far down the bacteria rabbit hole goes. Meanwhile, he and the team are planning to do more traveling, extracting and, of course, baking.
“In ancient Egypt, they left money in their wills to pay people to come to their tombs and read their names aloud, to keep them alive and remembered,” Blackley says. “This kind of does that, keeping them alive in a way. I feel we should have a kinship with these people. They were so smart and skilled.”
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