project partners

  • Erdene Myagmar (National University of Mongolia)
  • Cheryl Makarewicz (University of Kiel)

Project funding

This project is funded by the Max Planck Society.

Origins of Dairying in Ancient Central Asia Project

What can calcified dental plaque tell us about the origins of dairying and adaptations for adult lactase persistence? Through proteomic analysis of human calculus deposits we can asses the presence/absence of milk proteins, determining which species contributed to the nutritional diversity of Central Asian populations in antiquity. Furthermore, aDNA studies can uncover whether these populations had specific adaptations for retaining the ability to digest lactose after childhood.
Goats are an important source of milk, meat, and fiber in marginal environments. After a full day of grazing, a local herder drives his goats into the walled city of Lo Manthang in Upper Mustang, Nepal. Zoom Image
Goats are an important source of milk, meat, and fiber in marginal environments. After a full day of grazing, a local herder drives his goats into the walled city of Lo Manthang in Upper Mustang, Nepal.

The consumption of dairy in prehistoric Central Asian societies profoundly affected steppe populations. In addition to nutritional benefits, milk may have also provided an essential uncontaminated water source for pastoralists in marginal environments. Recent research has demonstrated the interconnectedness of Asia, Africa, the Near East, and Europe through the transmission of ideas and technology across Eurasia, across what would become the Silk Road, including the spread of genes and methods for milk production.

Dairy cattle in Mongolia. Ruminant dairying has long been an important component of central Asian subsistence. Zoom Image
Dairy cattle in Mongolia. Ruminant dairying has long been an important component of central Asian subsistence.

South Asian and European populations share the same genetic adaptation for lactose digestion, but whether this diffused through Eurasia remains unclear. Using proteomic, isotopic, and genomic analyses, this project will assess the direct consumption of milk through time in prehistoric Central Asian populations, such as groups inhabiting Mongolia and Turkmenistan, to determine what types of species-specific diary were produced, and the frequency and forms of lactase persistent genotypes and phenotypes.

Publications

Boivin, Nicole 2008 Material Culture, Material Minds: The Impact of Things on Human Thought, Society, and Evolution. Cambridge University Press, New York.

Spengler Robert N., M. D. Frachetti, P. N. Doumani, L. M. Rouse, B. Cerasetti, E. Bullion, A. N. Mar’yashev 2014, Early Agriculture and Crop Transmissin among Bronze Age Mobile Pastoralists of Central Eurasia. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 281: 20133382

Spengler, Robert N., N. Ryabogina, P. Tarasov, M. Wagner 2016 The Spread of Agriculture into Northern Central Asia: Timing, Pathways, and Environmental Feedbacks. The Holocene:1-14.

Bronze Age human teeth with dental calculus deposits from Mongolia. Zoom Image
Bronze Age human teeth with dental calculus deposits from Mongolia.

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).

 

 

 
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