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10 September 2018
7,200-year-old cheese making found in Croatia

Analysis of fatty residue in pottery from the Dalmatian Coast of Croatia revealed evidence of fermented dairy products - soft cheeses and yogurts - from about 7,200 years ago, according to an international team of researchers. "This pushes back cheese-making by 4,000 years," said Sarah B. McClure, associate professor of anthropology.
     The presence of milk in pottery in this area is seen as early as 7,700 years ago, 500 years earlier than fermented products, said the researchers. DNA analysis of the populations in this area indicate that the adults were lactose-intolerant, but the children remained able to consume milk comfortably up to the age of ten. "First, we have milking around, and it was probably geared for kids because it is a good source of hydration and is relatively pathogen-free," said McClure. "It wouldn't be a surprise for people to give children milk from another mammal."
     However, about 500 years later, the researchers see a shift not only from pure milk to fermented products, but also in the style and form of pottery vessels. "Cheese production is important enough that people are making new types of kitchenware," said McClure. "We are seeing that cultural shift."
     The researchers looked at pottery from two sites in Croatia in Dalmatia - Pokrovnik and Danilo Bitinj. When possible, they selected samples from unwashed pottery, but because some pottery forms are rarer, used washed samples for the sieves. They tested the pottery residue for carbon isotopes, which can indicate the type of fat and can distinguish between meat, fish, milk and fermented milk products.
     According to the researchers, dairying may have opened northern European areas for farming because it reduced infant mortality and allowed for earlier weaning, decreasing the birth interval and potentially increasing population. It also supplied a storable form of nutrition for adults, because the fermentation of cheese and yogurt reduce the lactose content of milk products, making it palatable for adults as well as children. With a food source that could buffer the risk of farming in colder northern climates, farmers could expand their territories.

Edited from EurekAlert! (5 September 2018)

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