Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Spread of farming and origin of lactase persistence in Neolithic Age

Date:
August 28, 2013
Source:
Universität Mainz
Summary:
Scientists have brought to light the spread of dairy farming in Europe and the development of milk tolerance in adult humans. It was after the transition from a hunter-gatherer society to that of a settled farming culture in the Neolithic period that dairy-related animal husbandry first evolved, and this practice spread from the Middle East to all of Europe. The processing of milk to make cheese and yogurt contributed significantly to the development of dairy farming, as this represented a way of reducing the lactose content of fresh milk to tolerable levels, making a valuable foodstuff available to the human population.

Researchers of the BEAN Initial Training Network visiting excavations in western Anatolia.
Credit: ©: Joachim Burger

Scientists have brought to light the spread of dairy farming in Europe and the development of milk tolerance in adult humans. It was after the transition from a hunter-gatherer society to that of a settled farming culture in the Neolithic period that dairy-related animal husbandry first evolved, and this practice spread from the Middle East to all of Europe.

The processing of milk to make cheese and yogurt contributed significantly to the development of dairy farming, as this represented a way of reducing the lactose content of fresh milk to tolerable levels, making a valuable foodstuff available to the human population. Until 8,000 years ago, humans were only able to digest lactose, a form of sugar present in fresh milk, during childhood because as adults they lost the ability to produce endogenous lactase, the enzyme required to break down lactose. Shortly before the first farmers settled in Europe, a genetic mutation occurred in humans that resulted in the ability to produce lactase throughout their lives. Increasing numbers of adults in Central and Northern Europe have since been able to drink and digest milk.

"This two-step milk revolution may have been a prime factor in allowing bands of farmers and herders from the south to sweep through Europe and displace the hunter-gatherer cultures that had lived there for millennia," specifies the article in Nature with reference to the LeCHE project. Since 2009, this EU initial training network involving 12 postgraduate students and their mentors from different disciplines, i.e., anthropology, archeology, chemistry, and genetics, has been looking at the role played by milk, cheese, and yogurt in the early colonization of Europe and has published numerous important articles on the subject.

Anthropologist Professor Joachim Burger of Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU) was substantially involved in the establishment of the EU project and its research activities. "To appreciate the significance of our findings, it is important to realize that a major proportion of present-day central and northern Europeans descend from just a small group of Neolithic farmers who happened to be able to digest fresh milk, even after weaning," explained Burger. His team investigated the phenomenon of lactase persistence, i.e., the ability to break down milk sugar, using skeletons from the Neolithic. "Among the most exciting results obtained by the LeCHE group were the detection of milk fat residues in numerous Neolithic pottery remains and the ability to model the spread of positive selection of lactase persistence," said Burger.

Just 5,000 years ago, lactase persistence was almost non-existent among populations in which its modern prevalence is greater than 60 percent. The researchers assume that extensive positive selection and recurrent waves of migration were responsible for this development, which -- in evolutionary terms -- took place extremely rapidly.

Burger has now initiated an additional EU project entitled BEAN (Bridging the European and Anatolian Neolithic) to investigate the origins of the first Europeans to settle in the Balkans and western Anatolia. Adam Powell, a mathematician and population geneticist based in London, will be contributing his skills as a modeler and statistician to the team of Mainz anthropologists. To better understand the actual world in which the early farmers lived, the BEAN researchers recently visited archaeological sites in western Anatolia on a ten-day excursion. "It became very clear to us there that the west of present-day Turkey as well as the Balkans represent two key regions when it comes to the history of the population of Europe over the past 10,000 years," stated Burger.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Universität Mainz. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Andrew Curry. Archaeology: The milk revolution. Nature, 2013; 500 (7460): 20 DOI: 10.1038/500020a

Cite This Page:

Universität Mainz. "Spread of farming and origin of lactase persistence in Neolithic Age." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 28 August 2013. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/08/130828092010.htm>.
Universität Mainz. (2013, August 28). Spread of farming and origin of lactase persistence in Neolithic Age. ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 17, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/08/130828092010.htm
Universität Mainz. "Spread of farming and origin of lactase persistence in Neolithic Age." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/08/130828092010.htm (accessed April 17, 2014).

Share This



More Plants & Animals News

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Change of Diet Helps Crocodile Business

Change of Diet Helps Crocodile Business

Reuters - Business Video Online (Apr. 16, 2014) — Crocodile farming has been a challenge in Zimbabwe in recent years do the economic collapse and the financial crisis. But as Ciara Sutton reports one of Europe's biggest suppliers of skins to the luxury market has come up with an unusual survival strategy - vegetarian food. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Could Even Casual Marijuana Use Alter Your Brain?

Could Even Casual Marijuana Use Alter Your Brain?

Newsy (Apr. 16, 2014) — A new study conducted by researchers at Northwestern and Harvard suggests even casual marijuana use can alter your brain. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Thousands Of Vials Of SARS Virus Go Missing

Thousands Of Vials Of SARS Virus Go Missing

Newsy (Apr. 16, 2014) — A research institute in Paris somehow misplaced more than 2,000 vials of the deadly SARS virus. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Raw: Three Rare White Tiger Cubs Debut at Zoo

Raw: Three Rare White Tiger Cubs Debut at Zoo

AP (Apr. 16, 2014) — The Buenos Aires Zoo debuted a trio of rare white Bengal tiger cubs on Wednesday. (April 16) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
 
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:  

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:  

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile iPhone Android Web
Follow Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins