Baby feeding in prehistory

Funnel Beaker pottery in the Hunebed Centre. Was this small object with a spout used to feed a baby?

One of the most fascinating pieces of Funnel Beaker pottery on display in the Hunebed Centre is a small bowl with a spout, shown at the front of this photo. One of 160 pots found in hunebed D26 in Drouwen in 1968, experts have speculated whether it might have been used to feed a baby.

Now new archaeological research – published in the British scientific journal Nature – suggests that this could well be true. Little vessels made of clay, small enough to fit within a baby’s hands and with a narrow spout for suckling, have been found in settlements and child graves dating back to the Neolithic and Bronze Ages, up to 7,000 years ago.

Researchers at the University of Bristol carried out chemical testing on the contents of vessels found in child graves in Bavaria. Results showed that the vessels had contained sheep, cow and goat milk, leading scientists to believe that they were used to feed animal milk to babies. This may have been either in the place of human milk or during weaning.

Other experts have speculated that they could have been used to feed the sick or disabled. That could also be true, of course, but some of these tiny clay vessels were shaped like animals and had feet, suggesting that they were meant to be used by children.

Some of the tiny vessels made of clay were shaped like animals and had feet © University of Bristol

“They are almost toys as well as baby bottles” said Dr Julie Dunne of the University of Bristol. “The fact that human babies could be fed animal milk means essentially that prehistoric women could have more babies more quickly. This leads to a massive population increase, which sets us on the pathway to how we live today.” A rapid growth in population would eventually have led to a rise in communities and the birth of villages and towns.

Text                 Alun Harvey

Source:            BBC News website


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