Ancient North Africans got milk. Herders began dairying around 7,000 years ago
Bruce Bower, ScienceNews, 20-06-2012
Animal herders living in what was a grassy part of North Africa’s Sahara Desert around 7,000 years ago had a taste for cattle milk, or perhaps milk products such as butter. Researchers have identified a chemical signature of dairy fats on the inside surfaces of pottery from that time. Dairy products played a big part in the diets of these ancient Africans, even though they did not live in farming villages as the earliest European milk users did, reports a team led by biogeochemists Julie Dunne and Richard Evershed, both of the University of Bristol in England. Dairying may have spread from the Middle East and nearby areas – where farming emerged around 10,000 years ago – to Africa and Europe within a couple thousand years, the scientists propose in the June 21 Nature. Chemical evidence shows that cattle milked in the ancient Sahara ate plants from both cool, wet areas and hot, dry expanses. “Animals were being moved around the landscape between different ecosystems containing different plants, possibly as a result of seasonal variations in available pastures,” Evershed says.