milk and cheese and all things creamy

27 April 2020

At… … study traces the spread of early dairy farming across western Europe. This is down to the new technique of chemically analysing food residue on pottery – in this instance fragments of pottery from the Early Neolithic period. The study in Nature Communications ( ) has concentrated on traces of dairy products found on 80 per cent of the pottery fragments looked at, lots of which came from the Atlantic coast of Britain and Ireland. In contrast, dairy farming on the southern Atlantic coastline of what is now Portugal and Spain, was less intensive. There was more evidence here of sheep and goats milk and cheese. In NW Europe cows and the their milk products, from cream and butter to cheese, dominated the analysis. Bovines are still in the ascendancy even now although goats cheese has become quite popular in supermarket displays. Indeed, the bovine love affair in NW Europe probably goes all the way back to the Mesolithic when herds of wild aurochs were managed, as well as red deer. It seemed the prehistoric farmers that migrated from the Mediterranean into the Atlantic brought their animals with them (by boat or by foot) but in Britain and Ireland they may have absorbed Mesolithic practises (or even that Mesolithic people may have learned farming skills from newcomers) although goats and sheep were all part of the package – and a more docile domesticated breed of cow. It is suggested by archaeologists that the harsher northern climate led to a greater consumption of dairy products as they provided vitamin D and fats in the diet. This idea might not strictly be viable as the Neolithic climate (at least prior to 3000BC)  was benign in comparison to what it is in the modern world.

Skip to content