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Direct evidence of milk consumption from ancient human dental calculus

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Author(s)

  • Christina Warinner
  • Enrico Cappellini
  • Roman Fischer
  • Christian Trachsel
  • J Arneborg
  • N. Lynnerup
  • DM Swallow
  • Anna Fotakis
  • RJ Christensen
  • JV Olsen
  • A Liebert
  • N Montalva
  • Sophy Jessica Laura Charlton
  • Meaghan Mackie
  • A Canci
  • Abigail Bouwman
  • Frank Rühli
  • M. Thomas P. Gilbert

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Publication details

JournalScientific Reports
DatePublished - 27 Nov 2014
Volume4
Number of pages6
Original languageEnglish

Abstract

Milk is a major food of global economic importance, and its consumption is regarded as a classic example of gene-culture evolution. Humans have exploited animal milk as a food resource for at least 8500 years, but the origins, spread, and scale of dairying remain poorly understood. Indirect lines of evidence, such as lipid isotopic ratios of pottery residues, faunal mortality profiles, and lactase persistence allele frequencies, provide a partial picture of this process; however, in order to understand how, where, and when humans consumed milk products, it is necessary to link evidence of consumption directly to individuals and their dairy livestock. Here we report the first direct evidence of milk consumption, the whey protein β-lactoglobulin (BLG), preserved in human dental calculus from the Bronze Age (ca. 3000 BCE) to the present day. Using protein tandem mass spectrometry, we demonstrate that BLG is a species-specific biomarker of dairy consumption, and we identify individuals consuming cattle, sheep, and goat milk products in the archaeological record. We then apply this method to human dental calculus from Greenland's medieval Norse colonies, and report a decline of this biomarker leading up to the abandonment of the Norse Greenland colonies in the 15th century CE.

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. The images or other third party material in this article are included in the article's Creative Commons license, unless indicated otherwise in the credit line; if the material is not included under the Creative Commons license, users will need to obtain permission from the license holder in order to reproduce the material. To view a copy of this license, visit http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/

    Research areas

  • Dental Calculus, Milk, Beta-lactoglobulin, Archaeology, Lactase Persistence

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