MPI-SHH Project Members

Project funding

This research is jointly funded by the Max Planck Society and the US National Science Foundation.

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Origins of Dairying in Ancient Europe Project  

Europe is marked by rich and diverse cheese-making cultures. In this project we are characterizing the European transition from secondary product dairy consumption to modern dietary habits through direct detection of milk products by proteomic, isotopic, and metagenomic analyses of human dental calculus.
Cattle dairying shaped the evolution of the human lactase gene in Europe.
Cattle dairying shaped the evolution of the human lactase gene in Europe.

Europe is marked by its rich and diverse cheese-making cultures. The unique flavors, textures, and biological processes by which this diversity is achieved have all been codified by Protected Geographical Status for many European cheeses, some of which have been in production for thousands of years. The history of these cheesemaking industries is rooted in an important nutritional source for early Europeans, and set the stage for later adaptations for the consumption of whole milk. Whole milk, unlike many cheeses, has concentrations of the sugar lactose which are high enough to cause health issues for humans who lack the ability to process it efficiently.

<p>Genetic sequence obtained from a medieval skeleton in Germany. A thymine (T) at the highlighted position (-13910) results in continued lactase production during adulthood and enables the digestion of fresh dairy products. A cytosine (C) at this position results in lactase production being turned off after weaning and is a major risk factor for adult lactose intolerance. Current evidence suggests that the T-13910 allele is absent among the earliest European farmers and only rose to high frequency within the past 5,000 years.</p> Zoom Image

Genetic sequence obtained from a medieval skeleton in Germany. A thymine (T) at the highlighted position (-13910) results in continued lactase production during adulthood and enables the digestion of fresh dairy products. A cytosine (C) at this position results in lactase production being turned off after weaning and is a major risk factor for adult lactose intolerance. Current evidence suggests that the T-13910 allele is absent among the earliest European farmers and only rose to high frequency within the past 5,000 years.

This ability is conferred by the persistence of the gene LCT into adulthood, a genetic feature that is highly prevalent in modern Europeans. These separate horizons — the advent of cheesemaking and the later addition of milk consumption — represent what has been called the two-step milk revolution. This project aims to characterize the European transition from secondary product dairy consumption to modern dietary habits through direct detection of milk and milk products by proteomic, isotopic, and metagenomic analyses of human dental calculus.

Publications

Hendy J (2016). Archaeological Detection. In Oxford Companion to Cheese. Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780199330881

Hendy J, Bickle P, Copper M, Charlton S. (2016) Neolithic cheese making: experimental archaeology and public engagement with replica vessels. PAST: The Newsletter of the Prehistoric Society. Nov. 2016

Warinner, Christina, Jessica Hendy, C. Speller, E. Cappellini, R. Fischer, C. Trachsel, J. Arneborg, N. Lynnerup, O.E. Craig, D.M. Swallow, A. Forakis, R.J. Christensen, J.V. Olsen, A. Leibert, N. Montalva, S. Fiddyment, S. Charlton, M. Mackie, A. Canci, A. Bouwman, F. Rühli, M.T.P. Gilbert, and M.J. Collins. 2014 Direct Evidence of Milk Consumption from Ancient Human Dental Calculus. Scientific Reports 7(7104).

Kruettli A, Bouwman A, Akguel G, Della Casa P, Ruehli F, Warinner C (2014). Ancient DNA analysis reveals high frequency of European lactase persistence allele (T-13910) in medieval Central Europe. PLoS ONE 9(1), e86251.

 
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