August 06, 2014

Dairy farming transition ~2,500 years BC in the far north of Europe

Proceedings of the Royal Society B doi: 10.1098/rspb.2014.0819

Neolithic dairy farming at the extreme of agriculture in northern Europe

Lucy J. E. Cramp et al.

The conventional ‘Neolithic package’ comprised animals and plants originally domesticated in the Near East. As farming spread on a generally northwest trajectory across Europe, early pastoralists would have been faced with the challenge of making farming viable in regions in which the organisms were poorly adapted to providing optimal yields or even surviving. Hence, it has long been debated whether Neolithic economies were ever established at the modern limits of agriculture. Here, we examine food residues in pottery, testing a hypothesis that Neolithic farming was practiced beyond the 60th parallel north. Our findings, based on diagnostic biomarker lipids and δ13C values of preserved fatty acids, reveal a transition at ca 2500 BC from the exploitation of aquatic organisms to processing of ruminant products, specifically milk, confirming farming was practiced at high latitudes. Combining this with genetic, environmental and archaeological information, we demonstrate the origins of dairying probably accompanied an incoming, genetically distinct, population successfully establishing this new subsistence ‘package’.



Average Joe said...

Shouldn't the title be "Dairy farming transition ~4,500 years ago in the far north of Europe" since the transition took place in 2500 BC?

andrew said...

The transition coincides neatly with the archaelogical evidence of the first arrival of the Battle Axe culture in Finland which was derivative of the Corded Ware culture.

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Unknown said...

Worth noting is the paper does seem to acknowledge that Lactose Persistence appears to come later than the time bracket this paper is covering. Corded Ware apparently did not bring the adult milk to Finland.

So the milk the researchers found would have been fermented or cooked or processed in some way. Or they just lived with the adverse effects? Or is this how the trait began? In adverse conditions somewhere in the extremities of northern Europe

A different issue is: what would have compelled these folk to do this? Why cross the Baltic to farm cattle at this latitude? Corded Ware seems to get it's range from Corded Ware types not wanting to be around other Corded Ware types.

A note about the "maritime" food residues. One of the early Estonian scholars who looked at Corded Ware suspected it reflected a network for the trade in seal fat. I'm not sure how such stuff would show up in analysis.

In any case, this is about food processing. If there was some trade with the mesolithic neighbors in non-pottery related food stuffs - let say smoked fish -- I don't know it would show up either.

batman said...

The objects were taken from TRB-ceramics, which is the very same "battleaxe-culture".

Today we have 5.500 year old traces of agriculture of at the same altitude from the western side of the Botnic Ocean, as well.

batman said...

Pls. note that the brewing of beer reached the Island of Skye, at the NW coast of Scotland - more than 8.500 yrs ago, most likely together with the dog and the goat, possibly also sheep. A closer look at the domesticated animals shows that the goat seem to be the one that the most easy adapt and relate themselves to humans.

The expansion is often explained as a result of the warming of the climate taht occured 9-10.000 yrs ago.

This corresponds to the same time that the demesticated plants and animals expanded in the rest of Euraisa - such as the Balkans.

On the northern shores the climatical improvement took mnore time to effect the soil needed for continous agriculture. Consequently the nrothernes made salsh-burn-agriculture, moving their fields evry 3rd or 4th year.

That may explain how this northern agriculture could exist, without leaving the same amout of traces as their southern nephews and nieses.

Besides - processing seeds of plants and cereals were developed already during paleolithic time - 30.000+ yrs BP. Not the least amongst the northern populations, that could use the cereals from the harvest throughout the entire winter. Probably together with the goat-milk and the sheep-cheese.

Seems like the "Nerolithic revolution" is driven by the temperature - and the possibilwity to enhance produce and populations by massive cultivation - was a result of climate en e-x-p-e-n-as-i-o-n of small, agricultural foragers that spent late mesoliticum adapting to regional variations - before a larger expansion of this peculiar economy could happen. By regional expension, rather than inter-continental migrations, to which there still is no clear evidence, genetically or otherwise.

Grey said...


"So the milk the researchers found would have been fermented or cooked or processed in some way."

Cooked porridge would be my guess.


"Or is this how the trait began?"

Anyone who was lactose tolerant could get some extra calories by eating their oats and milk uncooked.

and lo let there be muesli


"A different issue is: what would have compelled these folk to do this?"

If the neolithic package wasn't effective along the atlantic coast that would explain the neolithic settlements hugging the coast and relying on sea food.

That would have left all the inland areas to foragers. As soon as someone figured out the dairy + grain option (if that is what happened) they could move inland.

That would have given the people who first developed the new diet all the Isles plus a large swathe of land along the Atlantic coast from the sea to the west edge of LBK - a potentially massive population expansion for the people who first figured it out.


"Corded Ware seems to get it's range from Corded Ware types not wanting to be around other Corded Ware types."


Unknown said...

I wrote:
"Corded Ware seems to get it's range from Corded Ware types not wanting to be around other Corded Ware types."

Gray wrote:

Yeah, maybe. But where there are settlements to look at they are very small. And very hard to find. Only about 30 Corded Ware houses have been identified so far, and people have been looking hard for them. There must have been plenty of pasture available.

If you take a look the rare Corded Ware site at Wattendorf-Motzenstein (Mueller 2009) you see a very isolated settlement, there's not a lot of evidence of a wider network. And that might have meant they were self-sufficient but it would also mean they were operating close to bare subsistence.

If you have a choice, you go south, not north. Not this far north.

There is a lot of evidence at Motzenstein of relying on wild fauna -- the mass of the bone remains say they were living more on game than on cattle or other domesticates. And there was also a reliance on domesticated grain.

Winters were probably incredibly tough. So why not go south?

It feels like they were running from something. Maybe from each other. Maybe that signal of tuberculosis found among the LBK types was a lesson they learned about too much crowding when you're raising livestock and living so close to the land.