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Sci Rep. 2014 Nov 27;4:7104. doi: 10.1038/srep07104.

Direct evidence of milk consumption from ancient human dental calculus.

Author information

1
1] Department of Anthropology, University of Oklahoma, Norman, OK, USA [2] Institute of Evolutionary Medicine, University of Zürich, Zürich, Switzerland.
2
BioArCh, Department of Archaeology, University of York, York, UK.
3
Centre for GeoGenetics, Natural History Museum of Denmark, University of Copenhagen, Copenhagen, Denmark.
4
Henry Wellcome Building for Cellular and Molecular Physiology, Oxford, UK.
5
Functional Genomics Center Zürich, University of Zürich/Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) Zürich, Zürich, Switzerland.
6
1] National Museum of Denmark, Copenhagen, Denmark [2] School of GeoSciences, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, United Kingdom.
7
Laboratory of Biological Anthropology, Institute of Forensic Medicine, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Copenhagen, Denmark.
8
Research Department of Genetics, Evolution and Environment, University College London, London, UK.
9
1] Centre for GeoGenetics, Natural History Museum of Denmark, University of Copenhagen, Copenhagen, Denmark [2] Novo Nordisk Foundation Center for Protein Research, Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences, University of Copenhagen, Copenhagen, Denmark.
10
Novo Nordisk Foundation Center for Protein Research, Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences, University of Copenhagen, Copenhagen, Denmark.
11
1] Research Department of Genetics, Evolution and Environment, University College London, London, UK [2] Department of Anthropology, University College London, London UK.
12
Dipartimento di Archeologia, Università degli Studi di Padova, Padova, Italy.
13
Institute of Evolutionary Medicine, University of Zürich, Zürich, Switzerland.
14
1] Centre for GeoGenetics, Natural History Museum of Denmark, University of Copenhagen, Copenhagen, Denmark [2] Trace and Environmental DNA Laboratory, Department of Environment and Agriculture, Curtin University, Perth, Australia.

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 15(th) century CE.

PMID:
25429530
PMCID:
PMC4245811
DOI:
10.1038/srep07104
[Indexed for MEDLINE]
Free PMC Article

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