Stone age man drank milk, scientists find

Steve Connor
Tuesday 28 January 2003 01:00
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Early britons drank milk as far back as 4,500BC, according to a chemical analysis of pottery fragments unearthed at several stone age sites in southern England.

Scientists have identified the chemical signature of dairy products such as milk, cheese or yoghurt inside a variety of cooking pots used for preparing food in neolithic Britain.

Mark Copley, an organic chemistry researcher at Bristol University, said the discovery suggested dairy products formed an important part of the stone age diet almost immediately after the introduction of livestock farming to Britain some 6,000 years ago.

Although it was known that ancient Britons kept livestock for meat, it was not clear whether the milk from the ruminant animals – sheep, goats and cows – was also collected for human consumption.

The question of dairying is important in understanding the nutrition and culture of ancient Britain but until now archaeologists have had little to go on other than the odd discovery of specialist vessels or putative cheese strainers.

The study, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, confirmed the presence of dairy products dating back more than 6,000 years. "The results provide direct evidence for the exploitation of domesticated ruminant animals for dairy products at Neolithic, Bronze Age and Iron Age settlements in Britain," the researchers report.

"Most significantly, studies of pottery from a range of early Neolithic sites confirmed dairying was a widespread activity in this period," they add.

Dr Copley said he and his colleagues analysed more than 950 pottery fragments from 14 archaeological sites, including the stone age forts at Windmill Hill in Wiltshire, and Hambledon Hill in Dorset.

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