Until now, researchers thought that the
processing, storage and use of domesticated cow, sheep and goats' milk
in the Middle East and the Balkans began around 5,000 BCE. But now an
international team of archeologists, including an Israeli from the
Hebrew University, have concluded on the basis of milk residue in over
2,200 pottery vessels from the area that it goes back 2,000 more years.
Yossef Garfinkel of HU's archeology institute and colleagues in the UK,
the US, the Netherlands, Greece, Turkey and Romania published their
findings in a recent issue of Nature. The authors note that
"the domestication of cattle, sheep and goats had already taken place
in the Near East" by the eighth millennium BCE. "Although there would
have been considerable economic and nutritional gains from using these
animals for their milk and other products..., the first clear evidence
for this appears much later, from the late fifth and fourth millennium.
Hence, the timing and region in which milking was first practiced
But the scientists examined thousands of pottery vessels from
the Middle East and southeastern Europe that were created seven to nine
thousand years ago and found clear organic evidence that they contained
milk lipids from domesticated animals.
The use of domesticated animals for milk, wool and pulling
without killing them for meat "marks an important step in the history
of domestication," they write. Some researchers have argued that as
soon as animals are domesticated, the benefits of these products would
have been exploited rapidly; others suggested that the lack of early
evidence of arts, plows and milking scenes shows that domesticated
animals were first exploited mostly for meat and hides.
Evidence of milk lipids on the pottery at Shikmim
and Sha'ar Hagolan in Israel showed that dairy products were consumed
here between the seventh and fourth millennia BCE, the article
reported. The earliest use was in Turkey.
"Organic residues preserved in pottery not only extend the
history, but show that milking was particularly important in areas more
favorable to cattle, compared to other regions where sheep and goats
were more common," they concluded. -