Neolithic tribes in Europe were producing cheese more than 7,000 years ago, archaeologists have discovered. Research findings published in the journal PLOS One (September 2018) report that analysis of fatty residue found in pottery discovered on the Dalmatian coast of Croatia revealed evidence of soft cheeses and yogurts dating back 7,200 years. This means that the earliest-known date for cheese-making is 4,000 years older than previously thought.
Only a month ago (August 2018) archaeologists in Egypt announced that they had found the remains of a 3,200-year-old cheese, claiming it was among the oldest cheese ever discovered.
Described as “a solidified whitish mass”, the cheese came from broken jars found in the tomb of a high-ranking official called Ptahmes, who was mayor of the ancient city of Memphis. But the new find in Croatia eclipses the Egyptian cheese by several millennia.
The discovery in Croatia was made at two archaeological sites where the remains of Neolithic villages and evidence of house structures were found, along with stone tools, pottery fragments and animal bones. The international team excavating the sites found that Neolithic people in the area were using pottery vessels to hold milk as far back as 7,700 years ago. However, 500 years later they started making vessels specifically for fermented products such as cheese and yogurt.
The team, led by Prof Sarah B McClure, associate professor of anthropology at Pennsylvania State University, analysed stable carbon isotopes of fatty acids preserved on potsherds (pieces of ceramic material). The switch in diet necessitated the production of different types of container, the scientists said. “Cheese production is important enough that people were making new types of kitchenware.” The primitive kitchenware, known as Danilo pottery, included bowls, plates, sieves and round-bodied vessels with distinctive handles and large openings on the sides. Nearly all of them displayed evidence of being used to produce cheese.
The development of cheese-making “may have opened northern European areas for farming because it reduced infant mortality and allowed for earlier weaning, decreasing the birth interval and potentially increasing population,” the research team said.
Text Alun Harvey
Source MailOnline / PLOS One