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A recent scientific report appeared to reassure the world that not everyone in China is dwelling on that country’s muscle-flexing space program or the intractability of Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi. Some Chinese, it suggested, are focused on less tendentious things. Take archaeologists, the subject of the report in the Oct. 13 issue of Nature magazine. Apparently, a team of them discovered a bowl of old noodles at a site in western China, and they are quite excited about it.

As who wouldn’t be? Because when they said old noodles, they didn’t mean last week’s takeout leftovers. They meant 4,000-year-old, pale yellow strands of identifiable millet pasta, still in their overturned dish and pristinely preserved under three meters of sediment. (To be fair to the Neolithic noodles, though, they were evidently in no worse shape than last week’s leftovers. We’re guessing that would be fairly al dente.)

We know what you’re thinking: How pleasant to read a story focused solely on an unexpected archaeological find. This was just about a bowl of noodles, right? A nice news morsel for newspapers’ food coverage, with no spin, no agenda, no competition involved?

No such luck. The first thing the researchers pointed out after providing the mundane details of what, when, where and who was that the noodles of Qinghai province were “almost certainly the earliest noodles ever found.” And this matters why? Because it supposedly gives China the edge in a long-running squabble with Italy over who invented the sloppy dish. “Chinese people say Marco Polo brought noodles from China back to Italy, and Italians say they had noodles before that,” one researcher said. Now, the team argues, they have concrete evidence of prehistoric Chinese pasta.

Well, we have news for all the combatants in the noodle wars: Nobody cares! This is not World War II. It’s not even the space race. This is lunch. And all that the rest of us — including, one hopes, most Chinese and Italians — care about is that if we’re having noodles they be steaming hot and made this morning.

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