The 84th Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (2015)


Direct evidence of milk consumption from ancient human dental calculus

CHRISTINA WARINNER1,2, JESSICA HENDY3, CAMILLA SPELLER3, ENRICO CAPPELLINI4, ROMAN FISCHER5, CHRISTIAN TRACHSEL6, JETTE ARNEBORG7,8, NIELS LYNNERUP7, OLIVER CRAIG3, DALLAS M. SWALLOW10, ANNA FOTAKIS4,9, RJ CHRISTENSEN11, JESPER OLSEN11, ANKE LIEBERT10, NICHOLAS MONTALVA10,12, SARAH FIDDYMENT3, MEAGHAN MACKIE3, ALESSANDRO CANCI13, ABIGAIL BOUWMAN2, FRANK RUHLI2, M THOMAS P. GILBERT14,4 and MATTHEW J. COLLINS3.

1Department of Anthropology, University of Oklahoma, 2Centre for Evolutionary Medicine, University of Zurich, 3Department of Archaeology, University of York, 4Centre for GeoGenetics, University of Copenhagen, 5Cellular and Molecular Physiology, Oxford University, 6Functional Genomics Center Zurich, Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, 7National Museum of Denmark, University of Copenhagen, 8School of Geosciences, University of Edinburgh, 9Institute of Forensic Medicine, University of Copenhagen, 10Research Department of Genetics, Evolution and Environment, University College London, 11Novo Nordisk Foundation Center for Protein Research, University of Copenhagen, 12Department of Anthropology, University College London, 13Dipartimento di Archeologia, Universita degli Studi di Padova, 14Department of Environment and Agriculture, Curtin University

March 27, 2015 3:00, Grand Ballroom A/B Add to calendar

Milk is a major food of global economic importance, and its consumption is regarded as a classic example of gene-culture evolution. Humans have exploited animal milk as a food resource for at least 8500 years, but the origins, spread, and scale of dairying remain poorly understood. Indirect lines of evidence, such as lipid isotopic ratios of pottery residues, faunal mortality profiles, and lactase persistence allele frequencies, provide a partial picture of this process; however, in order to understand how, where, and when humans consumed milk products, it is necessary to link evidence of consumption directly to individuals and their dairy livestock. Here we report the first direct evidence of milk consumption, the whey protein β-lactoglobulin (BLG), preserved in human dental calculus from the Bronze Age (ca. 3000 BCE) to the present day. Using protein tandem mass spectrometry, we demonstrate that BLG is a species-specific biomarker of dairy consumption, and we identify individuals consuming cattle, sheep, and goat milk products in the archaeological record. We then apply this method to human dental calculus from Greenland's medieval Norse colonies, and report a decline of this biomarker leading up to the abandonment of the Norse Greenland colonies in the 15th century CE.

This work was supported by Swiss Foundation for Nutritional Research, University of York C2D2 Research Priming Fund, Marie Curie EUROTAST FP7 PEOPLE-2010, Maexi Foundation Zurich, ERC Advanced Grant “The Rise”.