The Origins of Dairying in Ancient Africa

When and how did early African populations first consume milk? By combining proteomic analyses and genomic research this project explores the diversity of early milk consumption practices in Africa, the role of milk in the diet and how this important foodstuff shaped the emergence of lactase persistence.

Animal milk has been an important food source for humans in various regions of Africa for millennia, but many questions still remain about the origins and spread of its consumption. This project will investigate milk consumption practices throughout Africa, as well as ancient genomic evidence for lactase persistence, exploring the relationship of these patterns to the complex geography of lactase persistence alleles currently observed across the continent. Whilst previous studies have explored sources of data like faunal mortality profiles, rock art depicting herding, and milk residue analyses in ceramics, this study will adopt novel methods in genomic research and ancient protein analysis in order to directly identify lactase persistence and milk consumption in African contexts.

Extraction of ancient DNA from human dental calculus. Extracted protein can be observed as a white residue. Zoom Image
Extraction of ancient DNA from human dental calculus. Extracted protein can be observed as a white residue. [less]

By detecting species-specific protein fragments preserved in ancient dental calculus, we can gain a richer understanding of the exploitation of ruminants in prehistoric Africa, as well as link to individual osteobiographies and genomic profiles to explore how and why this foodstuff was powerful enough to shape the human genome. In addition, exploring wider contexts, we will compare variation in dairying practices between sites and settlements, in order to understand the diversity of milk consumption practices across time and space.

Related Publications

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

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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