Study traces spread of early dairy farming across Western Europe

April 27, 2020

A study has tracked the shift from hunter-gatherer lifestyles to early farming that occurred in prehistoric Europe over a period of around 1,500 years.

An international team of scientists, led by researchers at the University of York, analysed the molecular remains of food left in pottery used by the first farmers who settled along the Atlantic Coast of Europe from 7,000 to 6,000 years ago.

The researchers report evidence of dairy products in 80% of the pottery fragments from the Atlantic coast of what is now Britain and Ireland. In comparison, dairy farming on the Southern Atlantic coast of what is now Portugal and Spain seems to have been much less intensive, and with a greater use of sheep and goats rather than cows.

The study confirms that the earliest farmers to arrive on the Southern Atlantic coast exploited animals for their milk but suggests that dairying only really took off when it spread to northern latitudes, with progressively more dairy products processed in ceramic vessels.

Prehistoric farmers colonising Northern areas with harsher climates may have had a greater need for the nutritional benefits of milk, including vitamin D and fat, the authors of the study suggest.

Senior author of the paper, Professor Oliver Craig from the Department of Archaeology at the University of York, said: "Latitudinal differences in the scale of dairy production might also be important for understanding the evolution of adult lactase persistence across Europe. Today, the genetic change that allows adults to digest the lactose in milk is at much higher frequency in Northwestern Europeans than their southern counterparts".

The research team examined organic residues preserved in Early Neolithic pottery from 24 archaeological sites situated between Portugal and Normandy as well as in the Western Baltic.

They found surprisingly little evidence for marine foods in pottery even from sites located close to the Atlantic shoreline, with plenty of opportunities for fishing and shellfish gathering. An exception was in the Western Baltic where dairy foods and marine foods were both prepared in pottery.

Lead author of the paper, Dr Miriam Cubas, said: "This surprising discovery could mean that many prehistoric farmers shunned marine foods in favour of dairy, but perhaps fish and shellfish were simply processed in other ways.

"Our study is one of the largest regional comparisons of early pottery use. It has shed new light on the spread of early farming across Atlantic Europe and showed that there was huge variety in the way early farmers lived. These results help us to gain more of an insight into the lives of people living during this process of momentous change in culture and lifestyle - from hunter-gatherer to farming."

'Latitudinal gradient in dairy production with the introduction of farming in Atlantic Europe' is published in Nature Communications.
-end-
This research was carried out in collaboration between the University of York, Sociedad de Ciencias Aranzadi, University Autónoma of Barcelona, Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, University of Cantabria, INRAP, Service Régional de l'Archéologie of Normandy, Service Archéologie du Conseil Départemental du Calvados, University of Lisbon-UNIARQ, University of Santiago de Compostela, University of Rennes, Museo de Prehistoria y Arqueología de Cantabria, Institut Català de Paleoecologia Humana i Evolució Social, Museu Arqueológico de São Miguel de Odrinhas and University of Barcelona.

The study was funded by the European Commission through the Marie Curie project and by the Arts and Humanities Research Council.

University of York

Related Milk Articles from Brightsurf:

The "gold" in breast milk
Breast milk strengthens a child's immune system, supporting the intestinal flora.

Pasteurizing breast milk inactivates SARS-CoV-2
Pasteurizing breast milk using a common technique inactivates severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) making it safe for use, according to new research in CMAJ (Canadian Medical Association Journal). ttps://www.cmaj.ca/content/cmaj/early/2020/07/09/cmaj.201309.full.pdf

Milk lipids follow the evolution of mammals
Skoltech scientists conducted a study of milk lipids and described the unique features of human breast milk as compared to bovids, pigs, and closely related primates.

Raw milk may do more harm than good
Raw or unpasteurized cows' milk from U.S. retail stores can hold a huge amount of antimicrobial-resistant genes if left at room temperature, according to a new study from researchers at the University of California, Davis.

Milk pioneers: East African herders consumed milk 5,000 years ago
Animal milk was essential to east African herders at least 5,000 years ago, according to a new study.

Breast milk may help prevent sepsis in preemies
Researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis and Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., have found -- in newborn mice -- that a component of breast milk may help protect premature babies from developing life-threatening sepsis.

Drinking 1% rather than 2% milk accounts for 4.5 years of less aging in adults
A new study shows drinking low-fat milk -- both nonfat and 1% milk -- is significantly associated with less aging in adults.

Photoinitiators detected in human breast milk
Photoinitators (PIs) are compounds used in the ink of many types of food packaging.

Milk from teeth: Dental stem cells can generate milk-producing cells
Stem cells of the teeth can contribute to the regeneration of non-dental organs, namely mammary glands.

Micro-ribonucleic acid in milk:Health risk very unlikely
Ribonucleic acid (RNA) occurs in animal and plant cells and has many biological functions.

Read More: Milk News and Milk Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.