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      Regional asynchronicity in dairy production and processing in early farming communities of the northern Mediterranean

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          Abstract

          <p id="d6554711e414">This unique research combines the analyses of lipid residues in pottery vessels with slaughter profiles for domesticated ruminants to provide compelling evidence for diverse subsistence strategies in the northern Mediterranean basin during the Neolithic. Our findings show that the exploitation and processing of milk varied across the region, although most communities began to exploit milk as soon as domesticates were introduced between 9,000 and 7,000 y ago. This discovery is especially noteworthy as the shift in human subsistence toward milk production reshaped prehistoric European culture, biology, and economy in ways that are still visible today. </p><p class="first" id="d6554711e417">In the absence of any direct evidence, the relative importance of meat and dairy productions to Neolithic prehistoric Mediterranean communities has been extensively debated. Here, we combine lipid residue analysis of ceramic vessels with osteo-archaeological age-at-death analysis from 82 northern Mediterranean and Near Eastern sites dating from the seventh to fifth millennia BC to address this question. The findings show variable intensities in dairy and nondairy activities in the Mediterranean region with the slaughter profiles of domesticated ruminants mirroring the results of the organic residue analyses. The finding of milk residues in very early Neolithic pottery (seventh millennium BC) from both the east and west of the region contrasts with much lower intensities in sites of northern Greece, where pig bones are present in higher frequencies compared with other locations. In this region, the slaughter profiles of all domesticated ruminants suggest meat production predominated. Overall, it appears that milk or the by-products of milk was an important foodstuff, which may have contributed significantly to the spread of these cultural groups by providing a nourishing and sustainable product for early farming communities. </p>

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          Earliest date for milk use in the Near East and southeastern Europe linked to cattle herding.

          The domestication of cattle, sheep and goats had already taken place in the Near East by the eighth millennium bc. Although there would have been considerable economic and nutritional gains from using these animals for their milk and other products from living animals-that is, traction and wool-the first clear evidence for these appears much later, from the late fifth and fourth millennia bc. Hence, the timing and region in which milking was first practised remain unknown. Organic residues preserved in archaeological pottery have provided direct evidence for the use of milk in the fourth millennium in Britain, and in the sixth millennium in eastern Europe, based on the delta(13)C values of the major fatty acids of milk fat. Here we apply this approach to more than 2,200 pottery vessels from sites in the Near East and southeastern Europe dating from the fifth to the seventh millennia bc. We show that milk was in use by the seventh millennium; this is the earliest direct evidence to date. Milking was particularly important in northwestern Anatolia, pointing to regional differences linked with conditions more favourable to cattle compared to other regions, where sheep and goats were relatively common and milk use less important. The latter is supported by correlations between the fat type and animal bone evidence.
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            Earliest evidence for cheese making in the sixth millennium BC in northern Europe.

            The introduction of dairying was a critical step in early agriculture, with milk products being rapidly adopted as a major component of the diets of prehistoric farmers and pottery-using late hunter-gatherers. The processing of milk, particularly the production of cheese, would have been a critical development because it not only allowed the preservation of milk products in a non-perishable and transportable form, but also it made milk a more digestible commodity for early prehistoric farmers. The finding of abundant milk residues in pottery vessels from seventh millennium sites from north-western Anatolia provided the earliest evidence of milk processing, although the exact practice could not be explicitly defined. Notably, the discovery of potsherds pierced with small holes appear at early Neolithic sites in temperate Europe in the sixth millennium BC and have been interpreted typologically as 'cheese-strainers', although a direct association with milk processing has not yet been demonstrated. Organic residues preserved in pottery vessels have provided direct evidence for early milk use in the Neolithic period in the Near East and south-eastern Europe, north Africa, Denmark and the British Isles, based on the δ(13)C and Δ(13)C values of the major fatty acids in milk. Here we apply the same approach to investigate the function of sieves/strainer vessels, providing direct chemical evidence for their use in milk processing. The presence of abundant milk fat in these specialized vessels, comparable in form to modern cheese strainers, provides compelling evidence for the vessels having being used to separate fat-rich milk curds from the lactose-containing whey. This new evidence emphasizes the importance of pottery vessels in processing dairy products, particularly in the manufacture of reduced-lactose milk products among lactose-intolerant prehistoric farming communities.
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              Direct chemical evidence for widespread dairying in prehistoric Britain.

              Domesticated animals formed an important element of farming practices in prehistoric Britain, a fact revealed through the quantity and variety of animal bone typically found at archaeological sites. However, it is not known whether the ruminant animals were raised purely for their tissues (e.g., meat) or alternatively were exploited principally for their milk. Absorbed organic residues from pottery from 14 British prehistoric sites were investigated for evidence of the processing of dairy products. Our ability to detect dairy fats rests on the observation that the delta(13)C values of the C(18:0) fatty acids in ruminant dairy fats are approximately 2.3 per thousand lower than in ruminant adipose fats. This difference can be ascribed to (i) the inability of the mammary gland to biosynthesize C(18:0); (ii) the biohydrogenation of dietary unsaturated fatty acids in the rumen; and (iii) differences (i.e., 8.1 per thousand ) in the delta(13)C values of the plant dietary fatty acids and carbohydrates. The lipids from a total of 958 archaeological pottery vessels were extracted, and the compound-specific delta(13)C values of preserved fatty acids (C(16:0) and C(18:0)) were determined via gas chromatography-combustion-isotope ratio mass spectrometry. The results provide direct evidence for the exploitation of domesticated ruminant animals for dairy products at all Neolithic, Bronze Age, and Iron Age settlements in Britain. Most significantly, studies of pottery from a range of key early Neolithic sites confirmed that dairying was a widespread activity in this period and therefore probably well developed when farming was introduced into Britain in the fifth millennium B.C.
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                Author and article information

                Journal
                Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
                Proc Natl Acad Sci USA
                Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
                0027-8424
                1091-6490
                November 29 2016
                November 29 2016
                : 113
                : 48
                : 13594-13599
                Article
                10.1073/pnas.1607810113
                5137723
                27849595
                © 2016

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