Milk—it does a body good, and apparently it’s been doing so for longer than we thought. A new study led by Richard Evershed of the University of Bristol in England says that humans had discovered dairy products by the 6,000s B.C., two millennia earlier than scientists had previously believed.
Evershed and his team found milk residue in pottery dating back to 6,500 B.C., found in areas of Turkey and the Balkans. “Cattle, sheep and goats were familiar farm animals by the eighth millennium BC, but until now, the first clear evidence for milk use was the late fifth millennium,” says the team [The Telegraph].
Milk fats are not water-soluble, so their traces can be identified in pottery even if the vessels have been buried in the ground for a few thousand years. The residues don’t indicate the presence of milk itself, as those would decay away very quickly, but instead suggest more processed dairy substances, such as butter, yogurt, ghee (or clarified butter), and possibly cheese [LiveScience].
Evershed said most the 2,200 pots his team studied showed milk fat in their walls, which supports the processing idea. That finding also gets the researchers around a potential problem in their study—that adults were uniformly lactose intolerant as recently as 7,000 years ago. However an inability to drink milk wasn’t necessarily a barrier to earlier dairy consumption, as lactose breaks down during processing [National Geographic]. So as long as these ancient people ate butter, cheese, or yogurt, their lactose intolerance made no difference.
Image: Richard Evershed