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Earliest evidence of milk consumption - BBC News

Date published: 2019-09-11
Originally published: Here. Excerpt below.


Image copyrightSophy Charlton / Dorset County MuseumImage caption
The evidence comes from dental plaque from Neolithic remains
Scientists have discovered the earliest direct evidence of milk consumption by humans.
The team identified milk protein entombed in dental plaque 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.
Image copyrightUniversity of YorkImage caption
Dr Charlton, shown here sampling the plaque from ancient teeth, says raw milk might have been processed into cheese or some other dairy product
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.
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