View Full Version : Molecular and isotopic evidence for milk, meat, and plants in prehistoric...

04-23-2020, 11:01 PM
Hey, how about some actual science!


Molecular and isotopic evidence for milk, meat, and plants in prehistoric eastern African herder food systems

Katherine M. Grillo, Julie Dunne, Fiona Marshall, Mary E. Prendergast, Emmanuelle Casanova, Agness O. Gidna, Anneke Janzen, Karega-Munene, Jennifer Keute, Audax Z. P. Mabulla, Peter Robertshaw, Toby Gillard, Caitlin Walton-Doyle, Helen L. Whelton, Kathleen Ryan, and Richard P. Evershed

PNAS first published April 13, 2020


The development of pastoralism transformed human diets and societies in grasslands worldwide. The long-term success of cattle herding in Africa has been sustained by dynamic food systems, consumption of a broad range of primary and secondary livestock products, and the evolution of lactase persistence (LP), which allows digestion of lactose into adulthood and enables the milk-based, high-protein, low-calorie diets characteristic of contemporary pastoralists. Despite the presence of multiple alleles associated with LP in ancient and present-day eastern African populations, the contexts for selection for LP and the long-term development of pastoralist foodways in this region remain unclear. Pastoral Neolithic (c. 5000 to 1200 BP) faunas indicate that herders relied on cattle, sheep, and goats and some hunting, but direct information on milk consumption, plant use, and broader culinary patterns is rare. Combined chemical and isotopic analysis of ceramic sherds (n = 125) from Pastoral Neolithic archaeological contexts in Kenya and Tanzania, using compound-specific δ13C and Δ13C values of the major fatty acids, provides chemical evidence for milk, meat, and plant processing by ancient herding societies in eastern Africa. These data provide the earliest direct evidence for milk product consumption and reveal a history of reliance on animal products and other nutrients, likely extracted through soups or stews, and plant foods. They document a 5,000-y temporal framework for eastern Africa pastoralist cuisines and cultural contexts for selection for alleles distinctive of LP in eastern Africa.

04-23-2020, 11:16 PM


Of course, none of this is shocking. As the abstract puts it, "the presence of multiple alleles associated
with [lactase persistence] in ancient and present-day eastern African populations" is known. Still, it's great to see the continuing work done on these sites and the steady stream the work is coming out at.