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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.