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Lactose intolerance in Africa

21 June 2012

Chemical analysis has shown that humans in the Sahara were milking cows some 7000 years ago – see www.cosmosmagazine.com/news/5708/early-saharan-africans-used-milk-7000-y… … according to research done at the University of Bristol. This affects the origins of lactose tolerance – as animal milk causes people to have a queasy stomach, or a more serious reaction, until genetic change has taken place. It is an important factor in Neolithic Europe, and incoming farmers are thought to have brought lactose tolerance with them – but only after genetic modification somewhere in NW Anatolia. The study, in Nature, was based on analysis of pot fragments from a rock shelter in Libya, where a cattle culture thrived. Not only did they use milk but they possibly made yoghurt and cheese as well, and the research shows that lactose tolerance, common among some Africans, had taken place by 5000BC.

The same story can be found at www.sciencenews.org/view/generic/id/341669/title/Ancient_North_Africans_… … where it makes clear the people were not farmers but herdsmen, living off their animals. The authors assume the idea of consuming milk and milk products came from the Near and Middle East, where farming is thought to have evolved. The situation is therefore different than Europe, or so it is assumed, as the consumption of milk arrived with the farming package, and this included pottery. In Africa the use of pottery precedes the use of milk – on current knowledge.

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