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Detecting milk proteins in ancient pots

Naturevolume 408page312 (2000) | Download Citation



Deciding whether to farm cattle for milk or beef was just as complex in the past as it is today. Compared with meat production, dairying is a high-input, high-output, high-risk operation indicative of an intensive, sophisticated economy, but this practice is notoriously difficult to demonstrate in the archaeological record1. Here we provide evidence for the presence of milk proteins preserved in prehistoric vessels, which to our knowledge have not been detected before. This finding resolves the controversy that has surrounded dairying on the Scottish Atlantic coast during the Iron Age2,3,4,5 and indicates that farming by the early inhabitants of this harsh, marginal environment was surprisingly well developed.

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  1. Fossil Fuels and Environmental Geochemistry, NRG, Drummond Building, University of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, NE1 7RU, UK

    • Oliver Craig
    •  & Matthew Collins
  2. English Heritage, Oxford University Museum, Parks Road, Oxford, OX1 3PW, UK

    • Jacqui Mulville
  3. Department of Archaeology and Prehistory, University of Sheffield, Northgate House, West Street, Sheffield, S1 4ET, UK

    • Mike Parker Pearson
  4. Regional Blood Transfusion Centre, Longley Lane, Sheffield, S5 7JN, UK

    • Robert Sokol
    •  & Keith Gelsthorpe
  5. Department of Archaeological Science, University of Bradford, Bradford, BD7 1DP, UK

    • Rebecca Stacey


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Correspondence to Oliver Craig.

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