Scientists claim to have discovered the world’s oldest cheese inside an Egyptian tomb dating back over 3,000 years.

Archeologists from the University of Catania in Italy found broken jars inside the tomb of Ptahmes – mayor of Memphis in Egypt during the 13th century BC – which was initially unearthed in 1885.

After being lost under drifting sands, the tomb was rediscovered in 2010, according to the study published in the journal Analytical Chemistry.

One jar contained a solidified whitish mass, as well as canvas fabric that might have covered the jar or may have been used to preserve its contents. Enrico Greco, from the University of Catania, and colleagues from Cairo University in Egypt, analysed the whitish substance to determine its identity.

After dissolving the sample, the researchers purified its protein constituents and analysed them with liquid chromatography and mass spectrometry. Liquid chromatography is a technique used to separate a sample into its individual parts, while as mass spectrometry measures the masses within a sample.

The peptides detected by these techniques show the sample was a dairy product made from cow milk and sheep or goat milk.

The characteristics of the canvas fabric, which indicate it was suitable for containing a solid rather than a liquid, and the absence of other specific markers, support the conclusion that the dairy product was a solid cheese, researchers said.

Other peptides in the food sample suggest it was contaminated with Brucella melitensis, a bacterium that causes brucellosis, they said.

This potentially deadly disease spreads from animals to people, typically from eating unpasteurised dairy products. If the preliminary analysis is confirmed, the sample would represent the earliest reported biomolecular evidence of the disease, researchers said.