Study traces spread of early dairy farming across Western Europe

Related Articles

Related Articles

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.

UNIVERSITY OF YORK

Header Image Credit :  Helen Fowler

Download the HeritageDaily mobile application on iOS and Android

More on this topic

LATEST NEWS

Intact Inca Underwater Offering Discovered in Lake Titicaca

Archaeologists conducting research at Lake Titicaca on the border between Peru and Bolivia, have discovered an intact underwater offering deposited over 500 years ago that sheds new light on the lake’s place in Inca culture.

Archaeologists Identify Ancient Wealth Gap

An international team of archaeologists have discovered that a wealth gap existed in the Neolithic, around 6,600-years-ago.

A Giant Crane From Southern Germany

Researchers from Frankfurt and Tübingen say the skull of a very large crane found at the Hammerschmiede fossil site in Allgäu, Bavaria, is more than eleven million years old.

When Mammals Ate Dinosaurs

The cervical rib of a long-necked dinosaur from northwest China provides the oldest known evidence to date that early mammals fed on dinosaur meat around 160 million years ago.

Early Mars Was Covered in Ice Sheets, Not Flowing Rivers

A large number of the valley networks scarring Mars's surface were carved by water melting beneath glacial ice, not by free-flowing rivers as previously though.

Scientists Discover Secret Behind Earth’s Biodiversity Hotspots

The research suggests that biodiversity hotspots - such as the Daintree Rainforest in Australia and the Cloud Forests of Ecuador - are teeming with species because they have been ecologically stable for long periods of time, allowing evolution to forge ahead undisturbed.

Offa’s Dyke – The Giant Earthwork Boundary

Offa’s Dyke is a large earthwork construction that is believed to delineate the border between the Saxon kingdom of Mercia and the Welsh kingdom of Powys.

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.

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.