Got milk? Research finds evidence of dairy farming 7,000 years ago in Sahara.
Rock art and pottery shards indicated that the Sahara's inhabitants may have produced milk, cheese, butter and yogurt some 7,000 years ago.
(Page 2 of 2)
"It suggests that they were moving between summer and winter camps and eating different plants at one place than another, so this all ties together very nicely," she said.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
Spread of milk and butter
No one has ever before looked for evidence of dairy farming in these herding tribes, Dunne said, but the new findings help explain how humans got their taste for milk. People first settled down to an agricultural lifestyle in the Near East about 8,000 or 9,000 years ago, she said. Soon after, they took up dairy farming. The milk habit then spread across Europe in fits and starts.
At the same time, though, people were also migrating from the Near East into what is now Egypt and other parts of Africa, Dunne said. This movement spread dairying to north Africans, who were previously settled hunter-gatherers and fishermen. As new immigrants moved in with cattle, these native people would have quickly seen the benefits of "marvelous big hunks of food on the hoof," Dunne said.
Humans had to evolve to match their new source of protein, however. Originally, mankind was lactose intolerant, meaning that milk drinking was an invitation for an upset stomach. Processing milk into yogurt and cheese would have helped, Dunne said, but humans also adapted: As dairying spread, so did genes that confer lactose tolerance.
"You're really seeing evolution in action over a very short timescale, just 1,000 to 2,000 years," Dunne said.
The researchers now plan to analyze more pottery samples from more northern African dwellings. The goal, Dunne said, is to get a better picture of how dairy — and cows — spread among the people of the continent.
Cattle "really played an enormous part in their ideology and their general day-to-day life," she said.
- Image Gallery: Ancient Rock Art of Sudan
- Top 10 Things that Make Humans Special
- Tip of the Tongue: The 7 (Other) Flavors Humans May Taste
Copyright 2012 LiveScience, a TechMediaNetwork company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.