Grate news for Cheddar Man
CAVEMEN tucked into a cheese course, according to new research by Bristol University academics.
It seems that even 7,000 years ago, cheese was on the menu in prehistoric northern Europe.
The first unequivocal evidence that prehistoric humans made cheese is described in research by an international team of scientists, led by the University of Bristol, published today in Nature.
By analysing fatty acids extracted from unglazed pottery pierced with small holes excavated from archaeological sites in Poland, the researchers showed that dairy products were processed in these ceramic vessels.
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Researchers from the Organic Geochemistry Unit at the University of Bristol, together with colleagues from universities in the United States and Poland, studied 7,000-year-old unglazed pottery from the region of Kuyavia in Poland.
Using "lipid biomarker" and "stable isotope" analysis, researchers examined preserved fatty acids trapped in the fabric of the pottery and showed that the sieves had been used for processing dairy products.
Melanie Salque, a PhD student from Bristol University and one of the authors of the paper said: "Before this study, it was not clear that cattle were used for their milk in Northern Europe around 7,000 years ago. However, the presence of the sieves in the ceramic assemblage of the sites was thought to be a proof that milk and even cheese was produced at these sites.
"Of course, these sieves could have been used for straining all sorts of things, such as curds from whey, meat from stock or honeycombs from honey.
"We decided to test the cheese-making hypothesis by analysing the lipids trapped into the ceramic fabric of the sieves."
The leader of the Bristol team, Professor Richard Evershed added: "It is truly remarkable the depth of insight into ancient human diet and food processing technologies that these ancient fats preserved in archaeological ceramics are now providing."
Cheddar Man is the name given to the oldest human skeleton found in Britain. Discovered in 1903 in Gough's Cave in Cheddar Gorge, the body is thought to date to around 7150BC – sadly, still a couple of thousand years before the oldest evidence of cheese consumption.