Earliest Dairy Farms Found In Sahara Desert
More than 7,000 years ago, the desolate Saharan desert was flush with people making dairy products, such as butter, cheese and yogurt, according to a new study, published in the journal Nature on Wednesday.
"What we're really beginning to know is that cattle were incredibly significant to early peoples," Julie Dunne, study author and an archaeological scientist at the University of Bristol in the United Kingdom, told Discovery News. "They gave a remarkably calorific source of food and allowed populations to expand dramatically. Milk and dairying seem to be so significant in human development, remarkably so."
Like Us on Facebook
The discovery came by identifying dairy fats on ancient pottery, giving researchers the first firm date of dairy farming in Africa. Researchers analyzed organic residue on 81 pieces of pottery from the Sahara desert in Libya. The regions dry conditions kept the residue well-preserved and researchers identified animal fats that prove ancient settlers farmed goats, cows and sheep.
Researchers said the findings show that dairy farming helped convert ancient humans from hunter-gatherers to a more settled society.
"The most exciting thing about this is that milk is one of the only foodstuffs that gives us carbohydrates, protein and fat," Dunne told LiveScience. "So it was incredibly beneficial for prehistoric people to use milk."
Back then, Africans had not developed the genetic mutations that would allow them to digest milk, researchers said, so they likely made cheese and yogurt. Settling down helped drive the evolution of that trait, Dunne said.
"You're really seeing evolution in action over a very short timescale, just 1,000 to 2,000 years," Dunne told LiveScience.
Joachim Burger, an evolutionary anthropologist at the University of Mainz in Germany, told Discovery News that the development of the techniques to make cheese and yogurt likely contributed to them settling down as well.
"The general question behind all this is what actually made man to become sedentary and change his lifestyle completely," Burger said. "Milk is not just a side effect of this change. It may even be a driving force behind it."
© 2012 iScience Times All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.