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19 January 2015
Dairy was an important food source in the Irish Neolithic

New research from the University of Bristol in southwest England reveals that dairy farming in Ireland dates back approximately 6,000 years.
     Dr Jessica Smyth of Bristol's School of Chemistry led the study which analysed nearly 500 pots from the Neolithic period, when people switched from hunting and gathering to farming. In Britain and Ireland, this change occurred around 4,000 BCE, more than 1,000 years later than on the European Continent.
     Dr Smyth says: "We know from previous research that dairying was an important part of many early farming economies, but what was a big surprise was the prevalence of dairy residues in Irish pots. It looks to have been a very important food source."
     Ninety per cent of the residues tested for fat origin were found to be dairy fats, with ten per cent found to be meat fats, or a mixture of milk and meat.
     Dr Smyth adds: "People can obviously cook meat in other ways than boiling it in pots, and there is plenty of evidence for cereal processing at this time, but the Irish dairy signal remains very striking... Ireland really does seem to go mad for milk in the Neolithic."
     Such results are even more significant given the fact that domesticated animals such as cattle, sheep and goats had to be physically shipped to Ireland as part of the process, as these animals were not native to the island.
     It would appear that the Irish love of dairy products is very ancient, and the suitability of the island for dairy farming was recognised early in prehistory.

Edited from Past Horizons (17 January 2015)

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