Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 2016 11 14;113(48):13594-13599. Epub 2016 Nov 14.
Organic Geochemistry Unit, School of Chemistry, University of Bristol, Bristol BS8 1TS, United Kingdom.
In the absence of any direct evidence, the relative importance of meat and dairy productions to Neolithic prehistoric Mediterranean communities has been extensively debated. Here, we combine lipid residue analysis of ceramic vessels with osteo-archaeological age-at-death analysis from 82 northern Mediterranean and Near Eastern sites dating from the seventh to fifth millennia BC to address this question. The findings show variable intensities in dairy and nondairy activities in the Mediterranean region with the slaughter profiles of domesticated ruminants mirroring the results of the organic residue analyses. The finding of milk residues in very early Neolithic pottery (seventh millennium BC) from both the east and west of the region contrasts with much lower intensities in sites of northern Greece, where pig bones are present in higher frequencies compared with other locations. In this region, the slaughter profiles of all domesticated ruminants suggest meat production predominated. Overall, it appears that milk or the by-products of milk was an important foodstuff, which may have contributed significantly to the spread of these cultural groups by providing a nourishing and sustainable product for early farming communities.