Image of the Day: Prehistoric Baby Bottles
Image of the Day: Prehistoric Baby Bottles

Image of the Day: Prehistoric Baby Bottles

Infants may have been drinking animal milk from vessels for thousands of years.

Sep 26, 2019
Emily Makowski

ABOVE: A variety of pottery, including vessels shaped like animals, has been found at prehistoric sites and may have been used to feed babies (the vessels pictured were not the ones analyzed for fatty acids).
KATHARINA REBAY-SALISBURY (2019)

Scientists described evidence yesterday (September 25) in Nature that suggests infants in prehistoric times were given animal milk to drink. A team led by Julie Dunne and Richard Evershed at the University of Bristol analyzed three spouted, clay vessels from the graves of Bronze Age and Iron Age infants and found that the artifacts contained fatty acids, likely from the milk of ruminant animals such as cows, goats, or sheep.

A baby tries out a reconstructed vessel similar to those made thousands of years ago that the researchers studied.
HELENA SEIDL DA FONSECA (2019)

The three bottles that the researchers examined, dated from 1200–450 BCE, represent the earliest known evidence of animal milk contained in small vessels. But the earliest pottery that may have been used for this purpose dates back to 5500–4800 BCE, during the Neolithic period, when humans began to transition to agriculture. During this time, infants started to be weaned earlier, which may have been accomplished in part through supplementing their diets with animal milk.

J. Dunne et al., “Milk of ruminants in ceramic baby bottles from prehistoric child graves,” doi:10.1038/s41586-019-1572-x, Nature, 2019.

Emily Makowski is an intern at The Scientist. Email her at emakowski@the-scientist.com.