Archaeologists have found traces of ruminant milk on pottery recovered from Neolithic sites in Europe.
“Possible infant feeding vessels first appear in Europe in the Neolithic (around 5,000 BCE), becoming more commonplace throughout the Bronze and Iron Ages,” said University of Bristol’s Dr. Julie Dunne and colleagues.
“The vessels are usually small enough to fit within a baby’s hands and have a spout through which liquid could be suckled.” “Sometimes they have feet and are shaped like imaginary animals.” “Despite this, in the lack of any direct evidence for their function, it has been suggested they may also be feeding vessels for the sick or infirm.”
The researchers used a combined chemical and isotopic approach to identify and quantify the food residues found within three small, spouted vessels from Neolithic sites in Bavaria.Their findings showed that the bottles contained ruminant milk from domesticated cattle, sheep or goat.
“These very small, evocative, vessels give us valuable information on how and what babies were fed thousands of years ago, providing a real connection to mothers and infants in the past,” said Dr. Dunne, lead author of a paper published in the journal Nature.
“Similar vessels, although rare, do appear in other prehistoric cultures (such as Rome and ancient Greece) across the world.”“Ideally, we’d like to carry out a larger geographic study and investigate whether they served the same purpose.” “Bringing up babies in prehistory was not an easy task,” added co-author Dr. Katharina Rebay-Salisbury, an archaeologist in the Institute for Oriental and European Archaeology of the Austrian Academy of Sciences.
“We are interested in researching cultural practices of mothering, which had profound implications for the survival of babies.”“It is fascinating to be able to see, for the first time, which foods these vessels contained.”
“This is a striking example of how robust biomolecular information, properly integrated with the archaeology of these rare objects, has provided a fascinating insight into an aspect of prehistoric human life so familiar to us today,” said co-author Professor Richard Evershed, from the University of Bristol.