New research shows that prehistoric people in the African Sahara turned to domestic dairy production more than 7,000 years ago.
The discovery didn’t come easily though, according to Discovery News. Archeological scientists had already dated the first document use of dairy products and domesticated dairy production in Turkey (9,000 years ago), eastern Europe (8,000 years ago) and Britain (6,000 years ago). However, African details were murky at best.
Though evidence pointed to domestic dairy farming in the African Sahara beginning 8,000 years ago, fossil remains were spotty. Detailed paintings on ancient rock walls depicted dairy cows and milking scenes, but no one could accurately date the art.
A new study, led by researchers from the University of Bristol in the United Kingdom, examined high concentrations of fat residues found in ancient pottery shards found in Libya. Analysis of the fat showed that some shards contained the remains of dairy products made from cow, goat and sheep’s milk, possibly dating back as far as 7,200 years ago.
Other research has shed even more light on the study. At that time, Africans had not developed genetic mutations allowing people to digest milk, so ancient Saharan dairy farmers likely used the milk to produce yogurt and cheese.
The transformation shows a big moment in the development of human history according to Joachim Burger, an evolutionary anthropologist at the University of Mainz. Dairy products, with their carbohydrate and nutrient profiles, would have provided these prehistoric people food that was superior to what they could obtain through hunting and gathering alone
“The general question behind all this is what actually made man to become sedentary and change his lifestyle completely,” Burger told Discovery News. “Milk is not just a side-effect of this change; it may even be a driving force behind it.”