Archaeology: The use of milk in central Europe began with immigrants

Science archeology

The use of milk in central Europe began with immigrants

Pouring milk in the glass on the background of nature.

Settlers from the southeast brought milk to Europe along the Danube

Source: Getty Images

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Milk and dairy products are central components of Western diets. Researchers can now date the beginning of milk production in Central Europe. They used very old ceramic vessels.

MThe agricultural economy in Central Europe goes back at least 7,400 years. This is the conclusion drawn by an international research team from the detection and dating of two fatty acids in ceramic vessels from a number of central European regions, including Germany, Poland, the Netherlands and Alsace. According to this, the practice goes back to the first settlers who came from the south-east and introduced agriculture to Central Europe.

become worldwide hundreds of millions of tons of milk annually produced, in Germany alone it was more than 33 million tons in 2020. However, little is known about the early days of dairy farming. Although it is assumed that Bovine were domesticated in the Near East more than 10,000 years ago. But how milk production spread could only be deduced indirectly in the past, for example from pictorial representations or by examining the age and sex of slaughtered cattle.

HANDOUT - Part of a decorative LBK ceramic pot used for food storage from the Colmar site in Alsace, France.  Credit: Emmanuelle Casanova ATTENTION: Free for editorial use only in connection with reporting on the study if the credit is given.  Photo: Emmanuelle Casanova

Part of ceramic vessel from Alsace examined for fatty acids

Source: Emmanuelle Casanova

That writes the team by Emmanuelle Casanova of the University of Bristol in the Proceedings of the US National Academy of Sciences (“PNAS”).

However, it is now possible to directly determine how milk is used – by detecting stable carbon isotopes from residues of animal fatty acids in ceramic vessels. Their dating using the C14 method offers the opportunity to directly determine the beginning of dairy farming.

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The scientists did this using vessels from the Linear Pottery Culture (LBK) culture. This oldest peasant culture in Central Europe bears its name because of the typical decoration of vessels. It spread in Central Europe from the middle of the 6th millennium BC, especially along the large rivers such as the Danube in particular.

The team has now analyzed vessels from sites in Hungary, Poland, France, the Netherlands and also from Germany – here from Königshoven on the Lower Rhine. The oldest residues of milk were therefore about 7400 years old. The team emphasizes that this shows that the earliest farmers in Central Europe consumed milk on a larger scale.

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“Dairy farming in Central Europe is probably as old as Linear Pottery Culture itself,” they say. “Our dating suggests that in a number of areas dairy farming was practiced from the earliest settlements and was not gradually adopted over time.”

The practice was introduced by several migration waves, tending from the south-east. The settlers probably came to Hungary from the Balkans, they came to Alsace through the Neckar valley and from the Danube region, while the immigrants came to the Netherlands along the Lower Rhine. The researchers suspect that there may also have been waves of immigration from the Mediterranean along the Rhone.

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