Stone Age humans consumed milk 2,000 years earlier than previously thought

August 7th, 2008 - 12:53 pm ICT by ANI  

National Geographic

Washington, August 7 (ANI): New discoveries of the earliest known milk containers has suggested that prehistoric humans consumed milk at least 8,500 years ago, which is up to 2,000 years earlier than previously thought.

The find shows that cow herders in northwest Turkey first developed the culinary breakthrough of using animal milk.

According to a report in National Geographic News, the study, by a team from the University of Bristol in the UK, analyzed more than 2,200 ceramic vessels from late Stone Age sites across Turkey, southeastern Europe, and the Middle East.

Evidence for milk fats, as opposed to meat fats, showed up clearly on unglazed pots dating back to 6500 B.C. from the Sea of Marmara region.

Ancient animal bones at the site also revealed the dairy livestock used there were cattle, rather than goats or sheep.

Its where you start to see milk really being used, said lead study author Richard Evershed, professor of biogeochemistry at the University of Bristol. As you go to other locations, the cattle evidence is much weaker, and the milk residues also show up much more weakly, he added.

Its the earliest direct evidence for milk use anywhere, said Evershed.

Previously, experts argued that sheep and goats kick-started dairy production, Evershed said.

This (study) shows that if you get into serious milk consumption, where youre using pottery and preparing your milk, its really related to cattle suddenly coming onstream, he said.

Northwest Turkey probably provided the right environmental conditions for cattle herding, having higher rainfall and greener grazing than other regions where farming began, according to the study team.

The first milk users, though, are not thought to have been milk drinkers, but butter, yogurt, or cheese eaters.

According to Evershed, the development of pottery and dairy products such as butter, yogurt, and cheese seem to go hand in hand.

Pots become a very convenient medium for processing milk (into butter, yogurt, or cheese), he said. Theyre definitely doing fairly intensive processing (for) that fat (to get) into the pot wall. Its showing up in a huge proportion of the pottery, he added.

Joachim Burger of the Institute of Archaeology at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz, Germany, said that the latest findings are highly significant.

While other recent research based on bone remains of slaughtered livestock suggests even earlier use of cows for dairy products, the new evidence is less open to doubt, he said.

We can now spot the very probable origin of dairying in the most western part of Asia, he added. (ANI)

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