Direct evidence for the existence of dairying farms in prehistoric Central Europe (4th millennium BC).
Institute of Mineralogy and Geochemistry, University of Lausanne, Lausanne, Switzerland.
The molecular and isotopic chemistry of organic residues from archaeological potsherds was used to obtain further insight into the dietary trends and economies at the Constance lake-shore Neolithic settlements. The archaeological organic residues from the Early Late Neolithic (3922-3902 BC) site Hornstaad-Hornle IA/Germany are, at present, the oldest archaeological samples analysed at the Institute of Mineralogy and Geochemistry of the University of Lausanne. The approach includes (13)C/(12)C and (15)N/(14)N ratios of the bulk organic residues, fatty acids distribution and (13)C/(12)C ratios of individual fatty acids. The results are compared with those obtained from the over 500 years younger Neolithic (3384-3370 BC) settlement of Arbon Bleiche 3/Switzerland and with samples of modern vegetable oils and fat of animals that have been fed exclusively on C(3) forage grasses. The overall fatty acid composition (C(9) to C(24) range, maximizing at C(14) and C(16)), the bulk (13)C/(12)C and (15)N/(14)N ratios (delta(13)C, delta(15)N) and the (13)C/(12)C ratios of palmitic (C(16:0)), stearic (C(18:0)) and oleic acids (C(18:1)) of the organic residues indicate that most of the studied samples (25 from 47 samples and 5 from 41 in the delta(13)C(18:0) vs. delta(13)C(16:0) and delta(13)C(18:0) vs. delta(13)C(18:1) diagrams, respectively) from Hornstaad-Hornle IA and Arbon Bleiche 3 sherds contain fat residues of pre-industrial ruminant milk, and young suckling calf/lamb adipose. These data provide direct proof of milk and meat (mainly from young suckling calves) consumption and farming practices for a sustainable dairying in Neolithic villages in central Europe around 4000 BC.dagger.
However, it seems that sheep and goat dairying practises predate this. I was wondering how the gene for lactase persistence could have spread without a milk drinking culture, then the light finally dawned and I realised that goats made it into Northern Europe a lot earlier!