Reported here are results from analyses of organic residues from sherds of pottery vessels from fifth- to seventh-millennium BC sites in southeastern Europe, Anatolia and the Levant. Vessels most likely to have been used for food preparation were selected to test where milk use started, and whether the use of milk products first began in the region where farming was pioneered, namely within the Fertile Crescent, or whether it was an innovation of other regions.
The most striking feature of the data obtained is the emphatic evidence for extensive processing of dairy products in the pottery from all the sites of northwestern Anatolia (Fig. 3a) dating from about 6500–5000 BC, around the Sea of Marmara. Of the,700 sherds analysed from the six sites considered in this region—As¸ag˘ı Pınar (5500–5000 BC), Toptepe (5500–5000), Yarımburgaz (6000–5500), Fikir Tepe (6000–5500), Hoca C¸ esme (6500–5500) and Pendik (6500–6000)—about 100 (,15%) yielded appreciable animal fat residues, of which 70% contained predominantly dairy fat residues. Thus, the milking of ruminant animals was clearly practised intensively in the sixth and seventh millennia BC in northwestern Anatolia.
Earliest date for milk use in the Near East and southeastern Europe linked to cattle herding
Richard P. Evershed et al.
The domestication of cattle, sheep and goats had already taken place in the Near East by the eighth millennium bc. Although there would have been considerable economic and nutritional gains from using these animals for their milk and other products from living animals—that is, traction and wool—the first clear evidence for these appears much later, from the late fifth and fourth millennia bc. Hence, the timing and region in which milking was first practised remain unknown. Organic residues preserved in archaeological pottery have provided direct evidence for the use of milk in the fourth millennium in Britain, and in the sixth millennium in eastern Europe, based on the δ13C values of the major fatty acids of milk fat. Here we apply this approach to more than 2,200 pottery vessels from sites in the Near East and southeastern Europe dating from the fifth to the seventh millennia bc. We show that milk was in use by the seventh millennium; this is the earliest direct evidence to date. Milking was particularly important in northwestern Anatolia, pointing to regional differences linked with conditions more favourable to cattle compared to other regions, where sheep and goats were relatively common and milk use less important. The latter is supported by correlations between the fat type and animal bone evidence.