Ancient proteins provide evidence of dairy consumption in eastern Africa.

Affiliation

Bleasdale M(1)(2), Richter KK(3), Janzen A(3)(4), Brown S(3), Scott A(5), Zech J(3), Wilkin S(3), Wang K(5), Schiffels S(5), Desideri J(6), Besse M(6), Reinold J(7), Saad M(8), Babiker H(9), Power RC(3)(10), Ndiema E(3)(11), Ogola C(11), Manthi FK(11), Zahir M(3)(12), Petraglia M(3)(13)(14), Trachsel C(15), Nanni P(15), Grossmann J(15), Hendy J(3)(16), Crowther A(3)(13), Roberts P(3)(13), Goldstein ST(3), Boivin N(17)(18)(19)(20).
Author information:
(1)Department of Archaeology, Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, Jena, Germany. [Email]
(2)Department of Archaeology, University of York, King's Manor, Exhibition Square, York, YO1 7EP, UK. [Email]
(3)Department of Archaeology, Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, Jena, Germany.
(4)Department of Anthropology, University of Tennessee, Knoxville, TN, USA.
(5)Department of Archaeogenetics, Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, Jena, Germany.
(6)Laboratory of Prehistoric Archaeology and Anthropology, Department F.-A. Forel for Environmental and Aquatic Sciences, Université de Genève, Geneva, Switzerland.
(7)Section française de la Direction des antiquités du Soudan, Khartoum, Sudan.
(8)National Corporation for Antiquities and Museums of Sudan, M.Bolheim Bioarchaeology Laboratory, Khartoum, Sudan.
(9)Department of Linguistic and Cultural Evolution, Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, Jena, Germany.
(10)Institute for Pre-and Protohistoric Archaeology and Archaeology of the Roman Provinces, Ludwig-Maximilians-University Munich, Munich, Germany.
(11)Department of Earth Sciences, National Museums of Kenya, Nairobi, Kenya.
(12)Department of Archaeology, Hazara University, Mansehra, Pakistan.
(13)School of Social Science, The University of Queensland, Brisbane, QLD, Australia.
(14)Department of Anthropology, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DA, USA.
(15)Functional Genomics Center, University of Zurich/ETH, Zurich, Switzerland.
(16)BioArCh, Department of Archaeology, University of York, York, UK.
(17)Department of Archaeology, Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, Jena, Germany. [Email]
(18)School of Social Science, The University of Queensland, Brisbane, QLD, Australia. [Email]
(19)Department of Anthropology, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DA, USA. [Email]
(20)Department of Anthropology and Archaeology, University of Calgary, Calgary, AB, Canada. [Email]

Abstract

Consuming the milk of other species is a unique adaptation of Homo sapiens, with implications for health, birth spacing and evolution. Key questions nonetheless remain regarding the origins of dairying and its relationship to the genetically-determined ability to drink milk into adulthood through lactase persistence (LP). As a major centre of LP diversity, Africa is of significant interest to the evolution of dairying. Here we report proteomic evidence for milk consumption in ancient Africa. Using liquid chromatography tandem mass spectrometry (LC-MS/MS) we identify dairy proteins in human dental calculus from northeastern Africa, directly demonstrating milk consumption at least six millennia ago. Our findings indicate that pastoralist groups were drinking milk as soon as herding spread into eastern Africa, at a time when the genetic adaptation for milk digestion was absent or rare. Our study links LP status in specific ancient individuals with direct evidence for their consumption of dairy products.