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Clay pot fragments reveal early start to cheese-making, a marker for civilizatio

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Author Topic: Clay pot fragments reveal early start to cheese-making, a marker for civilizatio  (Read 238 times)
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« on: January 13, 2013, 07:58:40 pm »

(—As a young archaeologist, Peter Bogucki based his groundbreaking theory on the development of Western civilization on the most ancient of human technology, pottery. But it took some of the most modern developments in biochemistry—and 30 years —finally to confirm he was right
While working as director of studies at one of Princeton University's residential colleges in the 1980s, Bogucki theorized that the development of cheese-making in Europe—a critical indicator of an agricultural revolution—occurred thousands of years earlier than scientists generally believed. His insight, based on a study of perforated potsherds that Bogucki helped recover from dig sites in Poland, promised to change the scientific understanding of how ancient Western civilization developed. Bogucki published his theory in a 1984 article in the Oxford Journal of Archaeology. Although his detective work was extensive, it was impossible to prove the bits of pottery were the remains of a cheese maker, rather than some other type of strainer. There the matter lay, until researchers at the University of Bristol used a new type of test to measure ancient molecular remnants embedded within the pottery. "Lo and behold, it was chock full of dairy lipids," said Bogucki, who is now the associate dean for undergraduate affairs at Princeton's School of Engineering and Applied Science. The discovery of milk lipids, a type of molecule signaling milk processing, was a smoking gun. In an article published last month in the scientific journal Nature, Bogucki and his fellow researchers explain that the presence of milk byproducts found in the pottery provides compelling evidence that farmers used the perforated pots to separate cheese curds from whey. It also explains how Neolithic Europeans, who were generally unable to digest lactose, were able to use milk for food—the whey retains most of the lactose in milk, allowing the farmers to eat the low-lactose cheese. "The discovery provides evidence of the manufacture of long-lasting and transportable dairy products as well as the consumption of low-lactose dairy products at a time when most humans were not tolerant of lactose," said Mélanie Salque, a researcher at the University of Bristol and the lead author of the Nature article. Ads by Google Italy Vacations 40% Less - Our Italy vacations are up to 40% less than traveling on your own. - The discovery has attracted notice from around the world. Bogucki has been quoted in the Los Angeles Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer and the BBC, and has been interviewed on National Public Radio. Polish national newspapers, such as Gazeta Wyborcza, have also run articles on the work. "It is a new experience to be in the midst of a media frenzy," Bogucki said. Although it can be a little distracting, he said "it sharpens your way of talking about what you have done and that is often very useful." Bogucki's expertise is the prehistoric archaeology of central Europe; he is writing a book on early European farming. Like most border regions, areas such as modern-day Poland are of great interest to social scientists studying the interaction of cultures. "The sites we are dealing with are in north central Poland," he said. "They are on the northern fringe of the earliest farming settlements. To the north of them lay the hunter gatherers of the Baltic basin." In the early 1980s, archaeologists began narrowing their estimates of when key farming developments occurred in ancient Europe. In 1981, Andrew Sherratt at the University of Oxford published a seminal paper describing his theory of a "secondary products revolution," a leap in civilization in which ancient farmers began using livestock for more than just meat. Anthony Legge, then at the University of London, published papers arguing that farm communities had adopted dairying sometime between 4,000 and 3,500 B.C., earlier than previously thought. "Tony was studying animal bones from sites in the British Isles and noticed the patterns at which the cows were slaughtered—lots of young males and older females—were consistent with what you would find in a dairying economy," Bogucki said.

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