June 27, 2008

Dairying in Neolithic Central Europe

Isotopes Environ Health Stud. 2008 Jun;44(2):189-200.

Direct evidence for the existence of dairying farms in prehistoric Central Europe (4th millennium BC).

Spangenberg JE, Matuschik I, Jacomet S, Schibler J.

The molecular and isotopic chemistry of organic residues from archaeological potsherds was used to obtain further insight into the dietary trends and economies at the Constance lake-shore Neolithic settlements. The archaeological organic residues from the Early Late Neolithic (3922-3902 BC) site Hornstaad-Hornle IA/Germany are, at present, the oldest archaeological samples analysed at the Institute of Mineralogy and Geochemistry of the University of Lausanne. The approach includes (13)C/(12)C and (15)N/(14)N ratios of the bulk organic residues, fatty acids distribution and (13)C/(12)C ratios of individual fatty acids. The results are compared with those obtained from the over 500 years younger Neolithic (3384-3370 BC) settlement of Arbon Bleiche 3/Switzerland and with samples of modern vegetable oils and fat of animals that have been fed exclusively on C(3) forage grasses. The overall fatty acid composition (C(9) to C(24) range, maximizing at C(14) and C(16)), the bulk (13)C/(12)C and (15)N/(14)N ratios (delta(13)C, delta(15)N) and the (13)C/(12)C ratios of palmitic (C(16:0)), stearic (C(18:0)) and oleic acids (C(18:1)) of the organic residues indicate that most of the studied samples (25 from 47 samples and 5 from 41 in the delta(13)C(18:0) vs. delta(13)C(16:0) and delta(13)C(18:0) vs. delta(13)C(18:1) diagrams, respectively) from Hornstaad-Hornle IA and Arbon Bleiche 3 sherds contain fat residues of pre-industrial ruminant milk, and young suckling calf/lamb adipose. These data provide direct proof of milk and meat (mainly from young suckling calves) consumption and farming practices for a sustainable dairying in Neolithic villages in central Europe around 4000 BC



  1. Thanks Dienekes. I found it interesting even if most others haven't. But my background is in agriculture, particularly dairy farming. Today the breeds with the highest milk production tend to come from northern and western Europe and so this article goes some way in telling us why.

  2. Terry,

    I grew up on a Dairy farm too - hence my early interest in genetics!

  3. I have brothers who are basically still dairy farming. The genetic information obtained from the use of artificial insemination has been invaluable in helping me understand how evolution works. It should be compulsory in genetics classes to study bull catalogues and what they tell us.

  4. Terry,

    That's funny I have family involved in dairying, and a first cousin who is an Agricultural Advisor specializing in Dairying, and worked a few years in New Zealand, as well as another cousin who married a NZ dairy farmer.

    I myself pored over AI catalogs as a kid, and my Dad put me in charge of the breeding program on the farm when I was about 9 or 10 yo. I still can vividly recall the pictures of favorite Frisian bulls, such as "Terling Topaz". I too gained a lot by studying pages of data on growth rates, milk production, butter fat production, ease of calving, and memorizied all 200 cows and their various offspring over many generation.


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