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Sunday, December 7, 2014

Milk consumption in late Neolithic/Bronze Age West Eurasia

The map below is based on data from Warinner et al. 2014. It shows the consumption of milk, or lack of, among Late Neolithic/Bronze Age (LN/BA) individuals from across West Eurasia. Admittedly, the sampling is very sparse, but like I've said before on these blogs, the LN/BA was a time of profound changes in Europe, so every scrap of data from this period is very valuable.

Note the lack of milk consumption among the samples from north of the Alps, where today the vast majority of people consume milk as adults, and can do so because they carry the Lactase Persistence Allele (T-13910). This doesn't look like a coincidence, considering the mounting evidence of a major population turnover across much of Europe during the LN/BA, mostly as a result of migrations from the east.


Warinner, C. et al. Direct evidence of milk consumption from ancient human dental calculus. Sci. Rep. 4, 7104; DOI:10.1038/srep07104 (2014).

See also...

Lactase persistence and ancient DNA

Ancient genomes from the Great Hungarian Plain


Helgenes50 said...

If the origin of this allele is due to a population turnover during the LNE/BA from the east. why the NW Europeans are the most concerned and not those of Eastern Europe

Davidski said...

Maybe because they relied more heavily on cows milk as a source of food when they were on the move, resulting in more extreme selection for the LP allele?

Or maybe when they got to where they were going they took a while to get used to the local environment, so they had to rely primarily on cows as a source of food until they could diversify?

Anyway, migrating thousands of miles isn't easy these days, but back then it was even more stressful, so I'm guessing this had something to do with it.

Sisophon said...

I would expect that much more recent events also drove up LP. In Ireland the population increased from about 3 to 8 million starting after the introduction of potatoes in the late 1700s's up, at a rate of 1 million per decade, up to the crash in 1845. The people were living on potatoes, buttermilk and cabbage, with salt as seasoning. The average height of Irishmen enlisting in the British army was one inch (25mm) taller than the British recruits, and they made up nearly half the army, so you can live on buttermilk and potatoes. If you are LP.


Fanty said...

I recall an article about LP from like 1 or 2 years ago.

Unfortunately I cant recall the source of it.

The main claim of the article wasnt the LP gene anyways but adressed the extreme speed in wich an allele can spread in a population.

That article claimed it would base on aDNA from Germany, from 10th century, 13th century and 16th century. (though I dont know of such samples in larger amounts)

It said...
20% of the tested Germans from the 10th century had the LP alleles.

1/3 from the tested Germans of the 13th century


50% of the tested Germans from the 16th century.

While modern Germans would have it in about 80%.

The final word of the article about that was, that it claimed the extreme success of that allele in NW Europe to be as recent as the middle ages and to be a reaction to a massive change in diet compared to the ancient age.

Matt said...

Looking at the results, they didn't find much evidence of milk consumption in Bronze Age Germany or Denmark, after the time of population turnover.

But then their samples do basically start in the Bronze Age, then seem to have coverage of relatively few individuals before the medieval age in Northern Europe.

Davidski said...


Yeah, the same scientists then released this paper after getting a few more samples...

"Our research shows that by AD 1200, lactase persistence frequency had risen to over 70% in this community in western Central Europe. Given that lactase persistence genotype frequency in present-day Germany and Austria is estimated at 71–80%, our results suggest that genetic lactase persistence likely reached modern levels before the historic population declines associated with the Black Death, thus excluding plague-associated evolutionary forces in the rise of lactase persistence in this region."

Davidski said...


The samples from Denmark and Germany here are classified as Neolithic despite their late dates, which suggests they were of a similar origin to Gokhem2.

Alberto said...

Does anyone know of any scientific paper that studies Blood Types in evolution?

It comes to mind because I read long ago in a non scientific book that until the Neolithic all humans were Blood Type 0. But with farming, they had to adapt to new diets and it's then when types A and B appeared (A mostly in Western Europe, B mostly in Asia).

People with Blood Type B are supposed to tolerate milk much better than Type A. Actually the B antigen is some sugar that is present in the milk. But I think that B is highest in India, while low in Western Europe.

Does this ring a bell to anyone?

Davidski said...

I don't think blood groups are very informative in this context.

bellbeakerblogger said...

I'm not so sure about the fruitfly argument.

Using this logic, most of North and West China should be 100% LP by now. Instead, it's about 0%.

Alberto said...

Yes, I wondered because the blood types are related to different groups (by this non-scientific system):

- Type 0: Hunter-gatheres, and it's recommended a Paleo-diet (meat, fish, fruits, nuts, some vegetables) type for them. Should avoid grains.
- Type A: Agriculturalist, and a more vegetarian diet based on grains is more suitable for them. Should avoid milk.
- Type B: Pastoralist, can eat all, but milk (and dairy) and eggs are essential for their diet.

So I wondered if there was any scientific study about this (or about the blood types in human evolution at all). However, there seems it's all in the realm of pseudo-science.

Grey said...


"If the origin of this allele is due to a population turnover during the LNE/BA from the east. why the NW Europeans are the most concerned and not those of Eastern Europe"

A gene will spread the more it's needed so LP would have had to be more needed.

Why would it be more needed: maybe not enough viable farmland for crop centered farming *and* not enough good pasture for full pastoralism but enough of both to create a compromise involving bowls of milk and oats *if* the population was LP but not otherwise.

(I think it may also have only become dominant along the periphery and expanded outwards from there over time (possibly because of the height advantage if it exists imo)).

Grey said...

So say c. 30-40% LP (or whatever it was) from the steppe arrives some place where full pastoralism isn't that great because there isn't enough pasture and crop farming isn't that great either but milk supplemented with the small amount of cereals that can be grown is viable then 30% -> 98% rapidly along the periphery and then slowly spreads after that.

Is my guess.

Matt said...

The samples from Denmark and Germany here are classified as Neolithic despite their late dates, which suggests they were of a similar origin to Gokhem2.

You're right, the Danes aren't classified here as Bronze Age. According to the supplement table 2, the two Germans who aren't medieval are Bronze Age, the two Danes are classified as Neolithic. None of these showing any evidence of milk consumption. It's a small sample base. Sample IDs RISE432, RISE460, RISE472, RISE472. No idea if the Dane samples are Corded Ware period or earlier. The dates and cultural origins here are pretty imprecisely given.

Davidski said...

Their RISE tags mean that they're from the Rise project.

So hopefully we'll soon see what their genomes are like. If they turn out to be very similar to Gokhem2, and also lactose intolerant, then we'll have evidence of a surprisingly recent population turnover across northwestern and central Europe. Thus far, all we can say is that only Sweden experienced such a turnover, which is interesting, but not as spectacular as practically 1/3 of Europe.

Krefter said...

Only 2 more weeks.....

Davidski said...

Till Christmas yes, but there's no guarantee that Reich and Laz will release anything then.

Pierre de Laclos said...

Wow, two weeks until fairy tale boy cranks about another paper using his dwarves and elves model.

Krefter said...

Pierre, do you have any other reason to dis agree with Reich besides what he has discovered is to good to be true? Is it a crime for someone to say what the evidence suggests, if what the evidence suggests is groundbreaking and interesting?

There were people who had the same attitude when cars, telephones, radios, and TVs were invented, and what we've learned through that is doubt itself isn't evidence something isn't true.