Thursday, October 3, 2019

Boobs to Bottles (Dunne, 2019)

This paper by Dunne et al, 2019 settles and demonstrates the purpose of clay, pipe-like vessels used in mainland Europe from the Neolithic to the Late Bronze Age.

The verdict?  Using lipid analyses and other bottles.

Science baby! Fig 2. From the paper (H. Seidl da Fonseca)

Typically for the first six months of a baby's life they'll be titted and then around the age where they are able to sit up and grasp things they can be weaned to a bottle.  Recently, I saw one of these in a French Bell Beaker mound and then several (similar?) from Late Neolithic Perdigoes in Portugal.

Dunne's pipes all have lipid residue, so when they have ash, what does that mean?  Could these also be used as fire starters or smoking pipes?  I suppose reside analysis can answer for each.

Some groups used a cow's horn for bottling

The study of childhood diet, including breastfeeding and weaning, has important implications for our understanding of infant mortality and fertility in past societies1. Stable isotope analyses of nitrogen from bone collagen and dentine samples of infants have provided information on the timing of weaning2; however, little is known about which foods were consumed by infants in prehistory. The earliest known clay vessels that were possibly used for feeding infants appear in Neolithic Europe, and become more common throughout the Bronze and Iron Ages. However, these vessels—which include a spout through which liquid could be poured—have also been suggested to be feeding vessels for the sick or infirm3,4. Here we report evidence for the foods that were contained in such vessels, based on analyses of the lipid ‘fingerprints’ and the compound-specific δ13C and Δ13C values of the major fatty acids of residues from three small, spouted vessels that were found in Bronze and Iron Age graves of infants in Bavaria. The results suggest that the vessels were used to feed infants with milk products derived from ruminants. This evidence of the foodstuffs that were used to either feed or wean prehistoric infants confirms the importance of milk from domesticated animals for these early communities, and provides information on the infant-feeding behaviours that were practised by prehistoric human groups.



  1. Meanwhile, while no one doubts that the ability to drink cow's milk as an adult should enhance selective fitness, it remains very hard to understand why the magnitude of that selective fitness benefit should be so great and why it should happen in Europe, primarily during the Bell Beaker era.

    The sweet spot for selective effect would seem to be that mothers drinking milk (due to be more calories and the immunity enhancing properties of Vitamin D) increased the survival rate of pregnant and nursing women and their infants at times of food insecurity and rampant disease (often due to compromised immune systems during famines or malnutrition), since natural growth of the LP tolerant populations was very high (to the point where polygyny is also suspected with suggestive pertinent precedents in legendary history era Ireland) and that is one of the most plausible places for there to be a big mortality discrepancy based upon LP tolerance.

    Before then, selection may have been limited because there were fewer cattle or the necessary LP tolerance gene wasn't available within the range of variation in the gene pool (and may have arrived with Bell Beaker or Corded Ware migrants in small percentages who had longer periods of exposure to herding of cows).

    But, for that advantage to ramp up to such a high percentage so quickly at that point, the mortality rate of people who didn't have that adaptation had to be very large and we don't have good anthropological evidence of what was destroying crops or killing people, although the sustained aridity event that killed the Akkadian Empire and dealt a death blow to Harappan culture ca. 2000 BCE looks plausible even though we usually think of that as having had more of an impact than it did at the higher latitudes where LP tolerance became most prevalent.

  2. I am curious to know if there is any evidence that cow's milk was consumed by humans (infants and adults) during the Bell Beaker era. Thanks

    1. Sorry for the late reply. There is several streams of evidence.
      It is with the Beakers that for the first time any cultural group shows any significant percentage of lactase persistence traits.
      Dental plaque, bone health and lipid residue from Beakers also show the importance of dairy in their diet.
      One last piece of evidence (that really hasn't begun to mature) is the type of cattle that became prevalent in the Beaker period. It may take several years to flesh out, but I think some decent evidence is pointing to a scenario where smaller longifron/brachyceros variety (single coat, red color) became important to farms throughout the Beaker universe. Another indication of dairying.