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Dairy farming prospered at least 7,000 year ago

Engraved and painted rock art found in the Takarkori rock shelter in the Tadrart Acacus Mountains, a dwelling in the Libyan Sahara clearly depicts the importance of domestic animals, particularly cattle to the pre-historic people of Africa.

Milk that has been glorified as a wholesome balanced diet in the modern era.But it has been a safe and reliable food source for a very long time claims a new research.

Scientists have found evidence that humans in prehistoric Saharan Africa lived in a farm-based economy nearly 10,000 years ago. They had access to a nutrient-laden food from their animals.

Newly discovered fossilized bones as well as rock art portraying cows with full udders and images of milking indicate that cattle, sheep, and goats roamed over green savanna about 7,000 years ago.

Lead author of the study, Julie Dunne, a doctoral student at Bristol's School of Chemistry stated, “We already know how important dairy products such as milk, cheese, yoghurt and butter, which can be repeatedly extracted from an animal throughout its lifetime, were to the people of Neolithic Europe."

"So it's exciting to find proof that they were also significant in the lives of the prehistoric people of Africa.”

After grinding the pieces of pottery, scientists used sophisticated molecular and stable isotopic techniques to examine the proteins and fats rooted in the shards. This helped the investigators see what the pots once contained.

Evidence of early dairying practices in ancient human cultures
Engraved and painted rock art found in the Takarkori rock shelter in the Tadrart Acacus Mountains, a dwelling in the Libyan Sahara clearly depicts the importance of domestic animals, particularly cattle to the pre-historic people of Africa.

However, the vivid representations do not clarify whether the animals were also milked.

In order to get an insight into whether dairy practices were prevalent in ancient human cultures, the scientists used tiny pottery fragments unearthed at the Takarkori site.

After grinding the pieces of pottery, they used sophisticated molecular and stable isotopic techniques to examine the proteins and fats rooted in the shards. This helped the investigators see what the pots once contained.

The analysis revealed that the traces of in the ceramic pots are from milk and processed dairy products, such as yoghurt or cheese.

Given that early humans were probably lactose intolerant, experts theorize that processing would have helped them were able to consume milk products and digest them more easily.

Richard Evershed, a professor in Bristol’s School of Chemistry and co-author on the paper stated, “While the remarkable rock art of Saharan Africa contains many representations of cattle – including, in a few cases, depictions of the actual milking of a cow – it can rarely be reliably dated."

“Also, the scarcity of cattle bones in archaeological sites makes it impossible to ascertain herd structures, thereby preventing interpretations of whether dairying was practiced."

“Molecular and isotopic analysis of absorbed food residues in pottery, however, is an excellent way to investigate the diet and subsistence practice of early peoples. It’s an approach my colleagues and I have previously applied to successfully determine the chronology of dairying, beginning in the Fertile Crescent of the Near East and spreading across Europe.”

The findings appear in the current issue of the journal Nature.