Evidence of 7,200-year-old cheese making found on the Dalmatian Coast

Related Articles

Related Articles

Analysis of fatty residue in pottery from the Dalmatian Coast of Croatia revealed evidence of fermented dairy products — soft cheeses and yogurts — from about 7,200 years ago, according to an international team of researchers.

“This pushes back cheese-making by 4,000 years,” said Sarah B. McClure, associate professor of anthropology.

The presence of milk in pottery in this area is seen as early as 7,700 years ago, 500 years earlier than fermented products, said the researchers. DNA analysis of the populations in this area indicate that the adults were lactose-intolerant, but the children remained able to consume milk comfortably up to the age of ten.

 

“First, we have milking around, and it was probably geared for kids because it is a good source of hydration and is relatively pathogen-free,” said McClure. “It wouldn’t be a surprise for people to give children milk from another mammal.”

Selection of rhyta from Neolithic sites in Dalmatia.  CREDIT Sibenik City Museum

However, about 500 years later, the researchers see a shift not only from pure milk to fermented products, but also in the style and form of pottery vessels.

“Cheese production is important enough that people are making new types of kitchenware,” said McClure. “We are seeing that cultural shift.”

When only meat, fish and some milk residue is found in pottery, during the Early Neolithic, the pottery is a style called “Impressed Ware” found throughout the area.

500 years later, in the Middle Neolithic, another pottery style using different technology existed — Danilo pottery — which defines the era in this area and includes plates and bowls. There are three subtypes of Danilo pottery.

Figulina makes up five percent of this type and is highly fired and buff-colored, often slipped and decorated. All this pottery contained milk residue. The other Danilo wares contained animal fats and fresh water fish residue.

Rhyta, which are footed vessels with round bodies and are often animal- or human-shaped, have large openings on the sides and distinctive handles. The researchers found that three of the four rhyta in their sample showed evidence of cheese.

The third category of Danilo ware is sieves, which are often used in cheese-making to strain treated milk when it separates into curds and whey. Three of the four sieves in the sample showed evidence of secondary milk processing into either cheese or other fermented dairy products.

“This is the earliest documented lipid residue evidence for fermented dairy in the Mediterranean region, and among the earliest documented anywhere to date,” the researchers report today (Sept. 5) in PLOS One.

The researchers looked at pottery from two sites in Croatia in Dalmatia — Pokrovnik and Danilo Bitinj. When possible, they selected samples from unwashed pottery, but because some pottery forms are rarer, used washed samples for the sieves. They tested the pottery residue for carbon isotopes, which can indicate the type of fat and can distinguish between meat, fish, milk and fermented milk products. They used radiocarbon dating on bone and seeds to determine the pottery’s age.

According to the researchers, dairying — and especially cheese and fermented milk products — may have opened northern European areas for farming because it reduced infant mortality and allowed for earlier weaning, decreasing the birth interval and potentially increasing population. It also supplied a storable form of nutrition for adults, because the fermentation of cheese and yogurt reduce the lactose content of milk products, making it palatable for adults as well as children.

With a food source that could buffer the risk of farming in colder northern climates, farmers could expand their territories.

PENN STATE

Header Image – The archaeological site of Pokrovnik during excavation with the modern village, Dalmatia, Croatia. Credit : Andrew M.T. Moore

Download the HeritageDaily mobile application on iOS and Android

More on this topic

LATEST NEWS

The Varangian Guard – When Vikings Served the Eastern Roman Empire

The Varangian Guard was an elite unit that served as the personal bodyguards for the emperors of the Byzantine Empire (Eastern Roman Empire).

Walking, Talking and Showing Off – a History of Roman Gardens

In ancient Rome, you could tell a lot about a person from the look of their garden. Ancient gardens were spaces used for many activities, such as dining, intellectual practice, and religious rituals.

Curious Kids: How did the First Person Evolve?

We know humans haven’t always been around. After all, we wouldn’t have survived alongside meat-eating dinosaurs like Tyrannosaurus rex.

Ring-like Structure on Ganymede May Have Been Caused by a Violent Impact

Researchers from Kobe University and the National Institute of Technology, Oshima College have conducted a detailed reanalysis of image data from Voyager 1, 2 and Galileo spacecraft in order to investigate the orientation and distribution of the ancient tectonic troughs found on Jupiter’s moon Ganymede.

Tracing Evolution From Embryo to Baby Star

Astronomers using the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) took a census of stellar eggs in the constellation Taurus and revealed their evolution state.

“Woodhenge” Discovered in the Iberian Peninsula

Archaeologists conducting research in the Perdigões complex in the Évora district of the Iberian Peninsula has uncovered a “Woodhenge” monument.

New Fossil Discovery Shows How Ancient ‘Hell Ants’ Hunted With Headgear

Researchers from New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT), Chinese Academy of Sciences and University of Rennes in France have unveiled a stunning 99-million-year-old fossil pristinely preserving an enigmatic insect predator from the Cretaceous Period -- a 'hell ant' (haidomyrmecine) -- as it embraced its unsuspecting final victim, an extinct relative of the cockroach known as Caputoraptor elegans.

New Algorithm Suggests That Early Humans and Related Species Interbred Early and Often

A new analysis of ancient genomes suggests that different branches of the human family tree interbred multiple times, and that some humans carry DNA from an archaic, unknown ancestor.

Popular stories

Port Royal – The Sodom of the New World

Port Royal, originally named Cagway was an English harbour town and base of operations for buccaneers and privateers (pirates) until the great earthquake of 1692.

Matthew Hopkins – The Real Witch-Hunter

Matthew Hopkins was an infamous witch-hunter during the 17th century, who published “The Discovery of Witches” in 1647, and whose witch-hunting methods were applied during the notorious Salem Witch Trials in colonial Massachusetts.

Did Corn Fuel Cahokia’s Rise?

A new study suggests that corn was the staple subsistence crop that allowed the pre-Columbian city of Cahokia to rise to prominence and flourish for nearly 300 years.

The Real Dracula?

“Dracula”, published in 1897 by the Irish Author Bram Stoker, introduced audiences to the infamous Count and his dark world of sired vampiric minions.