A new study shows prehistoric British farmers may have been some of the world’s first milk drinkers.
Researchers at the University of York have found milk proteins from cows, sheep or goats in the teeth of British farmers who lived 6,000 years ago. The revelation is the earliest direct evidence of people consuming animal milk anywhere in the world.
Given that genetic research suggests people living in that time and place could not digest the lactose in milk, researchers believe these early milk consumers were making cheese and other products.
“Because drinking any more than very small amounts of milk would have made people from this period really quite ill, these early farmers may have been processing milk, perhaps into foodstuffs such as cheese, to reduce its lactose content,” said Dr. Sophy Charlton, the lead author of the study.
Farming in Britain emerged during what’s known as the Neolithic period (from 4,000 to 2,400 BC). During that time, people started planting wheat and barley, as well as raising animals like cows, goats and pigs.
The prehistoric human remains researchers tested in the study came from three different Neolithic sites in England, and all three had milk proteins from animals. Researchers say this could suggest that consuming animal dairy products was a widespread practice at the time.
Charlton said further research could examine the remains of more individuals from different sexes, genders, ages and social standings to see who was consuming milk in Britain during that period.