Archaeology: The milk revolution
In the 1970s, archaeologist Peter Bogucki was excavating a Stone Age site in the fertile plains of central Poland when he came across an assortment of odd artefacts. The people who had lived there around 7,000 years ago were among central Europe’s first farmers, and they had left behind fragments of pottery dotted with tiny holes. It looked as though the coarse red clay had been baked while pierced with pieces of straw.
Looking back through the archaeological literature, Bogucki found other examples of ancient perforated pottery. “They were so unusual — people would almost always include them in publications,” says Bogucki, now at Princeton University in New Jersey. He had seen something similar at a friend’s house that was used for straining cheese, so he speculated that the pottery might be connected with cheese-making. But he had no way to test his idea.
Really good article. I’d thought about the vitamin D aspect, which is mentioned, but also wondered if milk consumption might have decreased infant mortality due to nutritional deficiencies by allowing older children to continue consuming a rich source of calories, vitamins, and minerals past the time they would ordinarily have lost the ability.
I also kind of latched onto this part as well:
The approach could, for example, help to tease apart the origins of amylase, an enzyme that helps to break down starch. Researchers have suggested that the development of the enzyme may have followed — or made possible — the increasing appetite for grain that accompanied the growth of agriculture. Scientists also want to trace the evolution of alcohol dehydrogenase, which is crucial to the breakdown of alcohol and could reveal the origins of humanity’s thirst for drink.
Because if one posits alcohol production as driving the agricultural revolution, you’re kind of in the same boat as before: why not earlier? If, in fact, there were genetic mutations necessary for the ability to even ferment the starches in grains (or at least its spread), that could be a “prime mover” if you want to use that term.
Anyway, read the whole thing.