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Original article in Phys.org

by  University of York

Dairy
Credit: CC0 Public Domain

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.

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Science in Poland.pap.pl

Szymon Zdziebłowski

Adobe stock

People in the Neolithic and Bronze Ages were largely vegetarian, new research has shown.

Through the analysis of bones of those living in Miechów (Małopolska), scientists found that meat made up only a fraction of their diet, with plants accounting for nearly 50 percent.

Anthropologist Professor Krzysztof Szostek from the Institute of Biological Sciences of the Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński University in Warsaw said: “We were able to determine that the diet of people living in the lands of today’s southern Poland several thousand years ago, in the Neolithic and Bronze Age, consisted of meat only to a small extent. Nearly 50 percent of its composition were plants, and the rest were other foods, probably dairy products.”

In addition, scientists found that there was no statistical change in diet over a period of around 5,000 years

Professor Szostek said: “The use of animals was maximised, for example, to obtain milk or skins. Obtaining meat from animals was not a priority.”

The analyses show that the cereals consumed (probably in various forms) included mainly barley, einkorn wheat, emmer wheat, and later also spelt.

The scientists’ findings are a result of extensive comparative research, mainly related to one archaeological site in Miechów (Małopolska). Various groups of people lived in the area covered by the research over the period of nearly 5,000 years, from the first groups of farmers in today’s Poland, defined by archaeologists as the Linear Pottery culture, to the Lusatian culture during the Bronze Age.

Experts took collagen for nitrogen isotope analysis from both their bones and animal remains discovered at this site. Obtaining the full picture was possible after combining these data with data from archaeobotanical analyses (of cereal grains).

Professor Szostek said: “Until now, isotope research on diet reconstruction was performed without taking archaeobotanical analyses into account. This meant that the image of prehistoric people’s diet was incomplete, the models even showed that mainly meat was consumed during that time, which could not be true.”

The research was published in the Journal of Archaeological Science Reports.

 

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On this day ten years ago…
via Cows are key to 2,500 years of human progress

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On this day ten years aogo…
via Stone Age Scandinavians unable to digest milk

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Happy New Year everyone!
On this day ten years ago…
via Archaeologists Find Early Known Domestic Horses: Harnessed and Milked

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BBC.com
By Paul Rincon Science editor, BBC News website

Neolithic times

Scientists have discovered the earliest direct evidence of milk consumption by humans.

The team identified milk protein entombed in calcified dental plaque (calculus) on the teeth of prehistoric farmers from Britain.

It shows that humans were consuming dairy products as early as 6,000 years ago – despite being lactose intolerant.

This could suggest they processed the raw milk into cheese, yoghurt or some other fermented product.

This would have reduced its lactose content, making it more palatable.

The team members scraped samples of plaque off the teeth, separated the different components within it and analysed them using mass spectrometry.

They detected a milk protein called beta-lactoglobulin (BLG) in the tartar of seven individuals spanning early to middle Neolithic times.

“Proteomic analysis of calculus is a fairly recent technique. There have been a few studies before, but they have generally been on historical archaeological material rather than prehistoric material,” co-author Dr Sophy Charlton, from the department of archaeology at the University of York, told BBC News.

Lactose intolerance arises from the inability to digest the lactose sugar contained in milk beyond infancy. This means that consuming milk-based foods can cause uncomfortable symptoms such as abdominal pain, diarrhoea and nausea. However, many modern Europeans possess a genetic mutation which allows for the continued consumption of milk into adulthood.

This mutation affects a section of DNA controlling the activity of the gene for lactase – an enzyme that breaks down lactose sugar. However, previous studies of the genetics of Neolithic Europeans show that they lacked this mutation.

Dr Charlton said it was possible these Stone Age people were limiting themselves to small amounts of milk. “If you are lactose intolerant and you consume very, very small amounts of milk, then it doesn’t make you too ill. You can just about cope with that,” she explained.

But Dr Charlton added: “The alternative option, which I think is perhaps slightly more plausible, is that they were processing the milk in such a way that it’s removing a degree of the lactose. So if you process it into a cheese, or a fermented milk product, or a yoghurt, then it does decrease the lactose content so you could more easily digest it.

“That idea fits quite well with other archaeological evidence for the period in which we find dairy fats inside lots of Neolithic pottery, both in the UK and the rest of Europe.”

In addition, some of the milk residues found in these pots appear to have been heated, which would be required for processing raw milk into cheese or some other product.

The human remains tested in the study come from three Neolithic sites: Hambledon Hill in Dorset, Hazleton North in Gloucestershire, and Banbury Lane in Northamptonshire.

More than one quarter of the pottery fragments at Hambledon Hill had milk lipids on them, suggesting that dairy foods were very important to the people living at that site. Other Neolithic sites show evidence of animal herds that are consistent with those used for dairying.

Genetic studies of ancient populations from across Eurasia show that lactase persistence only became common very recently, despite the consumption of milk products in the Neolithic. The mutation had started to appear by the Bronze Age, but even at this time, it was only present in 5-10% of Europeans.

The Neolithic age in Britain lasted from about 6,000 to 4,400 years ago and saw the introduction of farming, including the use of domesticated animals such as cows, sheep, pigs and goats.

The study has been published in the journal Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences.

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Donkey milk was hailed by the ancients as an elixir of long life, a cure-all for a variety of ailments, and a powerful tonic capable of rejuvenating the skin. Cleopatra, Queen of Ancient Egypt, reportedly bathed in donkey milk every day to preserve her beauty and youthful looks, while ancient Greek physician Hippocrates wrote of its incredible medicinal properties. Now it seems that interest in donkey milk is experiencing a renewed interest after Pope Francis reported thriving on it as a baby, and remarkable results are being reported in people with psoriasis, eczema, and asthma.

Donkey milk preserves beauty and youth? Legend has it that Cleopatra (60 – 39 BC), the last active Pharaoh of Egypt, insisted on a daily bath in the milk of a donkey (ass) to preserve the beauty and youth of her skin and that 700 asses were need to provide the quantity needed. It was believed that donkey milk renders the skin more delicate, preserves its whiteness, and erases facial wrinkles. According to ancient historian Pliny the Elder, Poppaea Sabina (30 – 65 AD), the wife of Roman Emperor Nero, was also an advocate of ass milk and would have whole troops of donkeys accompany her on journeys so that she too could bathe in the milk. Napoleon’s sister, Pauline Bonaparte (1780–1825 AD), was also reported to have used ass milk for her skin’s health care.

Greek physician Hippocrates (460 – 370 BC) was the first to write of the medicinal virtues of donkey milk, and prescribed it as a cure a diverse range of ailments, including liver problems, infectious diseases, fevers, nose bleeds, poisoning, joint pains, and wounds.

Roman historian Pliny the Elder (23 – 79 AD) also wrote extensively about its health benefits. In his encyclopedic work Naturalis Historia, volume 28, dealing with remedies derived from animals, Pliny added fatigue, eye stains, weakened teeth, face wrinkles, ulcerations, asthma and certain gynecological troubles to the list of afflictions it could treat:

Asses’ milk, in cases where gypsum, white-lead, sulphur, or quick-silver, have been taken internally. This last is good too for constipation attendant upon fever, and is remarkably useful as a gargle for ulcerations of the throat. It is taken, also, internally, by patients suffering from atrophy, for the purpose of recruiting their exhausted strength; as also in cases of fever unattended with head-ache. The ancients held it as one of their grand secrets, to administer to children, before taking food, a semisextarius of asses’ milk.

Over the centuries, donkey’s milk continued to be recognized for its medicinal properties. In the 1800s, donkeys were used at a hospital for assisted children in Paris to aid in the recovery of children with congenital or contagious diseases. The Popular Science Monthly, Volume 22, writes:

The infants were at first fed with goat’s milk, but it was soon found that ass’s milk was better for them; and they are now all fed with milk which they draw directly from the teat of the animal. One, two, and sometimes three children are presented to the ass at the same time, being held at the teat in the arms of the nurse, and the operation is performed with wonderful ease. Numbers speak most eloquently of the success of the method. During six months, eighty-six children afflicted with congenital and contagious diseases were fed at the nursery. The first six were fed, by stress of particular circumstances, with cow’s milk from the bottle; only one of them recovered. Forty-two were nursed at the teat of the goat; eight recovered, thirty-four died. Thirty-eight were nursed at the teat of the ass; twenty-eight recovered, ten died. In the face of such results there can be hardly any hesitation in declaring that in hospitals, at least, the best method of feeding new-born children, who cannot, for any reason, be confided to a nurse, is to put them to suck directly from the teat of an ass.

Donkey milk is the closest known milk to human breast milk with high lactose ratios and low fat content. It is also rich in vitamins, contains anti-bacterial agents, reported to be 200 times more active than in cow’s milk, and anti-allergens, which are believed to be responsible for alleviating psoriasis, eczema, asthma, and bronchitis, according to a new report in the MailOnline. “Like humans, donkeys have a single stomach,” writes the MailOnline. “Yet we mostly drink the milk of multi-stomached animals such as cows and goats, which use a lot of bacteria to digest their food through a complicated fermentation process.”

Donkey milk is still used throughout the world for its many health benefits. Source: BigStockPhoto With all these benefits, one may wonder why it is not more readily available. The answer lies in its production. A female donkey produces an average of 0.3 litres of milk a day (maximum 1 litre) for only half of the year, while cows are forced to deliver 30 times as much throughout the year. Furthermore, a donkey “won’t produce milk unless it’s stimulated by the presence of its foal, and milking has to be done manually,” writes the MailOnline. As a result, the milk sells for an extremely high price, €24 (approx. $30) a litre in Cyprus, and in other European countries the price is even double. Nevertheless, donkey milk remains fairly popular in South America, where it can be readily found at street markets.

AP reports that fresh donkey milk is sold on the streets of Chile. “Ricardo Alegria is a different sort of milk man,” writes AP. “For a quarter century or more, he and his brother Marco have led donkeys through the streets of Chile’s capital, milking them on the spot for customers.” Ricardo Alegria said the milk taken as a “vitamin jolt” for babies with stomach problems, but that adults often drink it too. While many may be put off by the price of this precious milk, a donkey seller from Golden Donkeys Farm in the village of Skarinou, Cyprus, told MailOnline that 60ml a day is “all you need to protect your body”.

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Original article:
worldtruth.tv

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Finland’s love of milk has been traced back to 2500 BC, thanks to high-tech techniques to analyze residues preserved in fragments of ancient pots.

Prehistoric dairy farming at the extremes

The Finns are the world’s biggest milk drinkers today but experts had previously been unable to establish whether prehistoric dairy farming was possible in the harsh environment that far north, where there is snow for up to four months a year.

Research by the Universities of Bristol and Helsinki, published July 30 in Proceedings of the Royal Society B, is the first of its kind to identify that dairying took place at this latitude — 60 degrees north of the equator.

This is equally as far north as Canada’s Northwestern territories, Anchorage in Alaska, Southern Greenland and near Yakutsk in Siberia.

Researchers used a series of techniques, not just to analyse the ancient pots, but also to look at modern-day Finnish peoples’ ability to digest milk into adulthood.

By comparing the residues found in the walls of cooking pots from two separate eras and cultures, dating to circa 3900 BC to 3300 BC and circa 2500 BC, it was evident that the more recent pottery fragments showed evidence of milk fats.

This coincided with the transition from a culture of hunting and fishing — relying mainly on marine foods — to the arrival of ‘Corded Ware’ settlements which we now know saw the introduction of animal domestication.

Lead author Dr Lucy Cramp, from the Department of Archaeology and Anthropology at Bristol University, said: “This is remarkable evidence which proves that four and a half thousand years ago, Stone Age people must have been foddering and sheltering domesticated animals over harsh winters, in conditions that even nowadays we would find challenging.”

The results also drew a connection between the ‘Corded Ware’ farming settlers — who were likely to have been genetically different to the hunting and fishing communities — and modern day Finns.

Fellow researcher Dr Volker Heyd added: “Our results show a clear link between an incoming pre-historic population, milk drinking and the ability to digest milk in adulthood still visible in the genetic distribution of modern Finland, which remains one of the highest consumers of dairy products in the world.”

Professor Richard Evershed, from the School of Chemistry said: “It never ceases to amaze me that these sensitive chemical signatures of changing human life survive in the archaeological record for thousands of years. And it leaves one pondering what was motivating the people to move into these challenging regions?”

Original article:
sciencedaily

Lucy J E Cramp, Richard P Evershed, Mika Lavento, Petri Halinen, Kristiina Mannermaa, Markku Oinonen, Johannes Kettunen, Markus Perola, Päivi Onkamo and Volker Heyd. Neolithic dairy farming at the extreme of agriculture in northern Europe. Proceedings of the Royal Society B, July 30, 2014;

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Corded Ware sherds.
Credit: Finnish National Board of Antiquities

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A cattle herder drives his animals in Tanzania. The study linked the spread of pastoralism with the ability to digest milk.

Credit: University of Pennsylvania

Topic: Milk
A new study led by University of Pennsylvania researchers — constituting the largest examination ever of lactase persistence in geographically diverse populations of Africans — investigated the genetic origins of this trait and offers support to the idea that the ability to digest milk was a powerful selective force in a variety of African populations which raised cattle and consumed the animals’ fresh milk.

The research was led by Alessia Ranciaro, a postdoctoral fellow in Penn’s Department of Genetics in the Perelman School of Medicine, and Sarah Tishkoff, a Penn Integrates Knowledge Professor with appointments in Penn Medicine’s Department of Genetics and Penn Arts and Sciences’ Department of Biology.

The paper will be published March 13 in the American Journal of Human Genetics.

Previous research had shown that northern Europeans and people with northern European ancestry, as well as populations from Africa, the Arabian Peninsula and Central Asia with a tradition of fresh milk production and consumption, continue to express the lactase enzyme into adulthood. Some of these earlier studies had traced the genetic origin of this trait in Europeans to a particular mutation that regulates the expression of the gene that codes for lactase. And in 2007 a study by Tishkoff, Ranciaro and colleagues examined African populations and found three addition genetic variants associated with lactase persistence that had not been previously identified.

“But these variants didn’t completely account for the reason why some Africans were able to digest milk,” Ranciaro said.

To try to reconcile these apparent discrepancies between genotype, the genetic basis of a characteristic, and phenotype, the characteristic itself, Ranciaro, along with colleagues, led field studies to often-remote areas of Kenya, Tanzania and Sudan to collect blood samples and perform a lactose tolerance test on people from diverse ethnic backgrounds.

“The idea was that we wanted to sample as many populations, and as diverse a set of populations, as possible,” Ranciaro said. “We included pastoralists, agro-pastoralists, agriculturalists and hunter-gatherers, so the four major subsistence patterns were all covered.”

The Penn researchers worked with African collaborators and local district offices and tribal chiefs to spread the word and recruit volunteers for their study.

“This was a very challenging test to do in the field in remote regions,” said Ranciaro. “We were careful to make sure that people understood why we were doing this study and that they would need to commit to the hour or more of time needed to do the test.”

The test reveals whether someone has the ability to digest lactose into glucose and galactose. It requires participants to fast overnight, have their blood sugar measured, then drink a sweet beverage containing the equivalent lactose of one to two liters of cow’s milk and subsequently have their blood sugar tested at set intervals.

To look for genetic variations among the populations’ abilities to digest milk, the team sequenced three genomic regions thought to influence the activity of the lactase-encoding LCT gene in 819 Africans from 63 different populations and 154 non-Africans from nine different populations in Europe, the Middle East and Central and East Asia. They also examined the results of the lactose tolerance test in 513 people from 50 populations in East Africa.

Their sequencing and phenotyping efforts confirmed the association between lactase persistence and three known single-nucleotide polymorphisms, or SNPs, places where the DNA sequence varies in just one “letter.” But they also identified two new SNPs associated with the trait located in regions that are thought to regulate lactase gene expression.

Their analysis revealed strong evidence of recent positive selection affecting several variants associated with lactase persistence in African populations, likely in response to the cultural development of pastoralism. The distinct geographic patterns in which these variants were present correlate in many cases with historic human migrations, mixing between populations as well as the spread of cattle, camels or sheep.

For example, they found the variant associated with lactase persistence in Europeans, T-13910, in central and northern African pastoralist groups, suggesting that these groups may have mixed historically with a non-African population. The age of this genetic mutation is estimated to be 5,000-12,300 years old, coinciding with the origins of cattle domestication in North Africa and the Middle East. And a variant, G-13915, found at high frequencies in the Arabian Peninsula, and also present in northern Kenya and northern Sudan, dates to roughly 5,000 years ago, around the time that archaeological evidence suggests that camels were domesticated in the region.

Another variant, G-13907, was identified in the northern reaches of Sudan and Kenya as well as in Ethiopia. The researchers speculate that the mutation may have arisen in Cushitic populations in Ethiopia, who later migrated into Kenya and Sudan in the last 5,000 years.

They observed still another variant, C-14010, in Tanzania and Kenya as well as in southern Africa. This variant is believed to have arisen 3,000 to 7,000 years ago, a timing in line with the migration of pastoralists from North Africa into East Africa. The researchers’ analysis suggests that this variant spread more recently into southern African, perhaps only in the last 1,000 years.

“We’re starting to paint a picture of convergent evolution,” Tishkoff said. “Our results are showing different mutations arising in different places that are under selection and rising to high frequencies and then reintroduced by migration to new areas and new populations.”

Even with the new variants the Penn team identified, there were still patterns that the genetic data couldn’t explain. Some groups that appeared to be able to digest milk lacked any genetic sign of this ability. The Hadza, nearly half of whom had the lactase persistence trait, are one example.

“This raises the strong possibility that there are other variants out there, perhaps in regions of the genome we haven’t yet examined,” Tishkoff said.

Another possibility is that commensal bacteria in the gut could offer humans a helping hand in digesting milk. The team is now assaying Africans’ gut bacteria to see if that might be the case.

Additional co-authors on the study included Michael C. Campbell, Jibril B. Hirbo and Wen-Ya Ko of Penn’s Department of Genetics; Alain Froment of the Musée de l’Homme in Paris; Paolo Anagnostou of Universita’ La Sapienza and Istituto Italiano di Antropologia in Rome; Maritha J. Kotze of the University of Stellenbosch in South Africa; Muntaser Ibrahim of the University of Khartoum; Thomas Nyambo of Muhimbili University of Health and Allied Sciences in Tanzania; and Sabah A. Omar of the Kenya Medical Research Institute.

Original article:
sciencedaily
March 13, 2014

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Topic Ancient milk drinkers:

The mutation for milk-drinking evolved independently in different parts of the world over the last 10,000 years as a result of strong natural selection, but why was it so advantageous?

Among the more momentous developments in human evolution was the ability to digest milk beyond early childhood.

Mutations that enabled lifelong milk drinking appeared independently in several parts of the world over the last 7,500 years, according to growing evidence. And those genes spread rapidly. Today, about a third of adults around the world can drink milk without stomach problems, a trait known as lactase persistence.
But why was milk drinking so advantageous to humankind?

A new study debunks one leading theory: that milk provided a valuable source of vitamin D, which would’ve helped people absorb its calcium.

Newly analyzed human skeletons from an ancient site in Spain show that the milk-drinking gene spread just as rapidly in that sun-drenched climate as it did in other places, suggesting that milk must have been beneficial there for some reason other than its vitamin D content.

“Throughout the years, I have heard so many evolutionary hypotheses about lactase persistence because they are so fun to coin,” said Oddný Sverrisdóttir, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Uppsala in Sweden. “For decades now, people have hypothesized that it was because of lack of sunlight in the north of Europe that people would have had to supplement the lack of calcium and vitamin D by drinking milk.”

“Now, looking at this picture from Spain,” she said, “the calcium-assimilation hypothesis either didn’t affect the evolution of lactase persistence at all, or other forces were there as well.”

Sverrisdóttir has long been interested in how and why Europe’s early farmers began drinking milk, so she was excited when she got her hands on well-preserved samples of skeletal remains from eight people who lived in northeastern Spain about 5,000 years ago. That was well after the milk-drinking mutation had appeared in northern Europe, and she was eager to find out if those ancient Spaniards were drinking milk, too. So the first thing she did was test their DNA for lactase persistence.

“I thought at least one would have the mutation,” since so many of today’s Spanish adults can drink milk without health consequences, Sverrisdóttir said. “None did.”

To figure out whether the recent and rapid spread of lactase persistence in Spain was a fluke or if natural selection was at play, Sverrisdóttir and colleagues compared the mitochondrial DNA of modern Spaniards with the ancient samples. Mitochondrial DNA changes very slowly, making it ideal for tracing family trees over time.

And, the researchers report today in the journal Molecular Biology and Evolution, analyses showed that the ancient cave dwellers were indeed ancestors of people who live and frequently drink milk in Spain today.

Original article:

discovery.com

JAN 21, 2014 08:00 PM ET // BY EMILY SOHN

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