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The study of childhood diet, including breastfeeding and weaning, has important implications for our understanding of infant mortality and fertility in past societies¹. Stable isotope analyses of nitrogen from bone collagen and dentine samples of infants have provided information on the timing of weaning²; however, little is known about which foods were consumed by infants in prehistory. The earliest known clay vessels that were possibly used for feeding infants appear in Neolithic Europe, and become more common throughout the Bronze and Iron Ages. However, these vessels—which include a spout through which liquid could be poured—have also been suggested to be feeding vessels for the sick or infirm3,4. Here we report evidence for the foods that were contained in such vessels, based on analyses of the lipid ‘fingerprints’ and the compound-specific δ¹³C and Δ¹³C values of the major fatty acids of residues from three small, spouted vessels that were found in Bronze and Iron Age graves of infants in Bavaria. The results suggest that the vessels were used to feed infants with milk products derived from ruminants. This evidence of the foodstuffs that were used to either feed or wean prehistoric infants confirms the importance of milk from domesticated animals for these early communities, and provides information on the infant-feeding behaviours that were practised by prehistoric human groups.
Partial gas chromatograms and plots of δ¹³C and Δ¹³C values of n-alkanoic acids in infant-feeding vessels from Dietfurt and Augsburg cemeteries, Bavaria n = 3 vessels. a–c, Partial gas chromatograms of transmethylated trimethylsilylated extracts from infant-feeding vessels 1–3. Red circles, n-alkanoic acids (fatty acids); blue triangles, n-alkanes; IS, internal standard, C34n-tetratriacontane. d, δ¹³C values for the C16:0 and C18:0 fatty acids for archaeological fats extracted from infant-feeding vessels 1–3. The three fields correspond to the P = 0.684 confidence ellipses for animals raised on a strict C3 diet in Britain²⁰. Each data point represents an individual vessel. e, The Δ¹³C (δ¹³C18:0 – δ¹³C16:0) values are from the same vessels as in d. The ranges shown here represent the mean ± 1 s.d. of the Δ¹³C values from a global database comprising modern reference animal fats, which have been published previously²⁴. f, Partial high-temperature gas chromatogram of trimethylsilylated total lipid extract of infant-feeding vessel 2, showing degraded animal fat. Red circles indicate short- and long-chain n-alkanoic acids with the indicated number of carbon atoms; monoacylglycerols (M) containing 16 and 18 acyl carbon atoms; diacylglycerols (D) containing 28, 30, 32 and 34 acyl carbon atoms; triacylglycerols (T), containing 40, 42, 44, 46, 48, 50, 52 and 54 acyl carbon atoms; the plasticizer is indicated by an asterisk. IS, internal standard n-tetratriacontane (n-C34). Replication was not possible owing to the unique and irreplaceable nature of the archaeological artefacts sampled, although the objects were analysed using two different extraction methods.
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LETTER https://doi.org/10.1038/s41586-019-1572-x
Milk of ruminants in ceramic baby bottles from
prehistoric child graves
J. Dunne1*, K. Rebay-Salisbury2, R. B. Salisbury2, A. Frisch3, C. Walton-Doyle1 & R. P. Evershed1*
The study of childhood diet, including breastfeeding and weaning,
has important implications for our understanding of infant
mortality and fertility in past societies
. Stable isotope analyses of
nitrogen from bone collagen and dentine samples of infants have
provided information on the timing of weaning2; however, little is
known about which foods were consumed by infants in prehistory.
The earliest known clay vessels that were possibly used for feeding
infants appear in Neolithic Europe, and become more common
throughout the Bronze and Iron Ages. However, these vessels—
which include a spout through which liquid could be poured—have
also been suggested to be feeding vessels for the sick or infirm3,4.
Here we report evidence for the foods that were contained in
such vessels, based on analyses of the lipid ‘fingerprints’ and the
compound-specific δ
C and Δ
C values of the major fatty acids of
residues from three small, spouted vessels that were found in Bronze
and Iron Age graves of infants in Bavaria. The results suggest that
the vessels were used to feed infants with milk products derived
from ruminants. This evidence of the foodstuffs that were used to
either feed or wean prehistoric infants confirms the importance of
milk from domesticated animals for these early communities, and
provides information on the infant-feeding behaviours that were
practised by prehistoric human groups.
The study of past infancy—including infant care, breastfeeding and
weaning practices—provides valuable information on population
demographics and health, reproduction rates, mortality patterns and
fertility of individuals of past societies. Today, feeding practices for
babies can be attributed to various ecological and socioeconomic con-
straints and cultural factors, such as health beliefs and food taboos
Prehistoric humans probably practised a range of infant-feeding behav
iours2–4,6,7, which had profound consequences for the biological and
social wellbeing of the infants. Ethnographic, historical and social stud-
ies have shown differences across the breastfeeding phase, the nature of
the addition of supplementary foods (during weaning) and the timing
of cessation of breastfeeding1,5,6,8.
Breastfeeding is integral to infant care in all human groups and funda-
mental to the mother–infant relationship
. Breast milk provides an infant
with all of the macro- and micronutrients that are required to sustain
growth for the first six months of life
, together with bioactive compo
nents, which protect the infant from pathogenic organisms and facilitate
the development and maturationof theimmune system
. The intro-
duction of energy and nutrient-rich, easily digestible, supplementary
foodsin infant feeding (that is, during weaning) is unique to humans
Supplementary foods are generally introduced at around six months of
age, when the metabolic requirements of an infant exceed the energy
yield that the mother can provide through milk, contributing to the
infant diet as chewing, tasting and digestive competencies develop1,12,13.
Considerable variation exists in the practice and duration of breast-
feeding and the subsequent addition of supplementaryand/orweaning
foodstuffs between human groups. Hunter-gatherers typically breast-
feed for several years, whereas the adoption of a sedentary lifestyle
in early farming communities led to shortening of the breastfeeding
, which was probably due to the introduction of agriculture,
at which time new foods became available to wean infants—for exam-
ple, animal milk and cereal products. The widespread use of animal
milk, either to feed babies or as a supplementary weaning food source,
became possible with the domestication of dairy animals during the
European Neolithic
, during which time generally improved nutrition
contributed to an increased birth rate, with shorter inter-birth inter-
vals, that resulted in considerable growth of the human population: the
so-called Neolithic demographic transition15. Broad trends identified
from the Neolithic to Iron Age in Central Europe suggest that supple-
mentary foods were given to babies at around six months of age and
weaning was complete by two to three years of age3.
Possible infant-feeding vessels that are made from clay first appear
in Neolithic Europe. One of the earliestof such finds is a Linear Pottery
Culture feeding vessel from Steigra, Germany, that has been dated
around 5500–4800 . These unique vessels, which have a small spout
through which liquid could be poured or suckled, come in many forms
and sizes and occasionally have a zoomorphic design (Extended Data
Fig.1). They become more common in Central Europe during the late
Bronze and early Iron Age4 and are found in settlements, as stray finds,
and in graves(particularly those of children), which strongly suggests
that they were feeding or weaning vessels for infants.
The precious nature and often small openings of these vessels makes
their sampling for organic residue analysis extremely challenging.
However, infant-feeding vessels that have an open, bowl form, found in
1Organic Geochemistry Unit, School of Chemistry, University of Bristol, Bristol, UK. 2Institute for Oriental and European Archaeology, Austrian Academy of Sciences, Vienna, Austria. 3Abteilung
Archäologie, Museen der Stadt Regensburg, Regensburg, Germany. *e-mail: julie.dunne@bristol.ac.uk; r.p.evershed@bristol.ac.uk
10 cm
5 cm1 m
0.5 m
Fig. 1 | Description of the child graves and associated feeding vessels.
a, b, Drawings of child graves from Dietfurt (left) and images of the
feeding vessels found in each grave (right). Photographs of vessels were
taken by A.F. (a) and K.R.-S. (b). Drawings of the graves were reproduced
from a previously published plan17 (a) and drawing18 (b).
246 | NATURE | VOL 574 | 10 OCTOBER 2019
Content courtesy of Springer Nature, terms of use apply. Rights reserved
... Many studies, such as Breckenridge and Kuksis (1967) and Balthazar et al. (2017) were applied on modern milks from cow, sheep and goat animals and showed that C 18:1 , C 18:0 , C 16:0 , C 14:0 , C 12:0 and C 10:0 acids are generated with highest abundances from the mother triacylglycerols. In comparison, fresh adipose fats contain triacylglycerols with even-numbered acyl carbons counted from 54 to 48 (Dunne et al., 2019) dominated by two long-chain acid moieties with 18 and 16 carbons (Smyth et al., 2019). Therefore, ruminant milk fats contain mid-and short-chain (C 14:0 -C 4:0 ) fatty acids while adipose fats do not contain these acids or contain very few number of these acids with very low concentrations (Smyth et al., 2019). ...
... Since C 14:0 , C 12:0 and C 10:0 are uncommon in adipose fats Parras et al., 2011;Smyth et al., 2019) and present in negligible or zero amounts in monogastric animals, their apparent occurrence with C 18:0 , C 16:0 , C 18:1 and cholesterol in Jn4 extract (Figs. 4 and 6) suggests a ruminant-based milk lipid as a source of this residue (Parras et al., 2011), which requires confirmation. Dunne et al. (2019) indicated that the occurrence of C 14:0 , C 12:0 and C 10:0 infers the ruminant fat of sheep, goat or cow milk but not human milk. C 12:0 was detected in Jn4 extract with higher abundance compared with the C 10:0 and C 14:0 fatty acids (Figs. 4 and 6), therefore, it could be an evidence of milk fats since it is available in all products of milk but almost absent in animal tissues (Agozzino et al., 2001). ...
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This study is part of a long-term project attempts to better understand the content and use of pottery vessels in the Bronze and Iron Ages in Jordan by examining organic residues preserved in their interior fabrics. The main purpose of this study is to analyse organic residues retained in a second collection of Iron Age II pottery sherds excavated at the site of Jneneh in North-Central Jordan, in order to determine the content and the potential use of the mother vessels based on integrating data obtained from this bimolecular study with those found in the archaeological record. The analysis was applied on these sherds and their associated soils. Residues were retrieved from the pottery fabrics and soils using the conventional solvent extraction method. One portion of each residue was analysed using gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC–MS) technique, and when needed, another portion was first saponified (alkaline hydrolysed) and then analysed. The analysis revealed the existence of: (1) Markers related to two materials preserved in a sherd that belongs to a coarse storage jar with collared decoration (Jn9; Class 1). The first material is beeswax, which may have intentionally been applied as a sealant on the inner side of the jar in order to store aqueous liquids like water or to store dry goods. Using the jar for storing honey, which probably was not completely filtered from beeswax, was also proposed. The second material is being of plant origin, possibly oil or mixture of oils, preserved as a result of using the same jar for storing, either before or unlikely after sealing the jar with beeswax. Using both materials as a mixture inside the jar was also suggested. These two materials reoccurred for the second time in vessels from the same site. (2) Markers related to animal fat (possibly ruminant-based milk lipid, which requires confirmation) preserved in a sherd that belongs to a fine miniature jug (Jn4; Class 2), which was probably used for holding the milk products for daily based use. (3) Markers with very low concentrations related to a plant wax originated from unknown source were also observed in seven pottery sherds (Class 3), some of these sherds have contamination signals from handling and modern materials. (4) Few number of undiagnostic markers with very low concentrations were also detected in other five sherds (Class 4), therefore, their origin could not be determined. The organic contents of the latter two classes, and particularly Class 4, may have been subjected to a high level of degradation and depletion, therefore, residue analysis of this study could not provide data on the use of Classes 3 and 4 mother vessels but archaeologically their potential uses were discussed in this paper. Analysis of the markers present in the soils adhering onto the surfaces of pottery sherds provided evidences on the occurrence of lipid-based natural materials inside Jn9 and Jn4 vessels and on degradation and depletion of organic contents, as well as contamination from soil lipids in case of the other vessels. Hence, this study presents further evidence on, possibly, the common use of bees and plant products in the IA II settlement at Jneneh.
... The research field strongly participated in decoding the diet from animal and vegetal sources (Copley et al., 2003(Copley et al., , 2005Craig et al., 2004;Whelton et al., 2021). For instance, Dunne et al. (2019) shed light on ruminant milk used to feed children using FA isotopic δ 13 C values from Bavarian Bronze and Iron Age vessels, specifically meant for children alimentation. Dealing with animal milk nourishment, they managed to address ruminant domestication at prehistorian time (Dunne et al., 2019). ...
... For instance, Dunne et al. (2019) shed light on ruminant milk used to feed children using FA isotopic δ 13 C values from Bavarian Bronze and Iron Age vessels, specifically meant for children alimentation. Dealing with animal milk nourishment, they managed to address ruminant domestication at prehistorian time (Dunne et al., 2019). Furthermore, it remarkably helped in assessing anthropological activities, products manufacture and ancient savoir-faire (Drieu, 2017;. ...
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The work presented in this thesis focused on the analysis of archaeological vessels. Through the search for molecular markers, identified by Gas Chromatography – Mass Spectrometry and the observation of archaeobotanical remains, this study aims to identify the original content of the studied vessels. The analysis of organic residues, both contained in the ceramic sherd and in the waterproofing layer inside the amphora, offers a first reading of the functionality of the object and its content. Particular importance is given to the botanical identification and formulation techniques used to produce a waterproofing matrix that was affixed to the inside of the amphora. The paleobotanical investigation that mainly focused on the search for pollen, brings a new angle of analysis by concentrating on the one hand on the characterization of environmental and/or economic fossil species, and on the other hand on the botanical origin of the identified pollens. In addition to the optimization of existing protocols for the extraction of molecules considered as biomarkers, this study focuses on the benefits of a multi-analytical archaeometric approach through the analysis of different archaeological artifacts from heterogeneous periods and contexts. Focusing on the Roman period, this thesis focuses on the analysis of wine and/or oil amphorae from the Planier 3 shipwreck (France) and the ancient anchorage of San Felice Circeo (Italy) before extending the methodology and the results to a "pouring" vase of singular typology dating from the Bronze Age (West Bank).
... Inter-and intra-population variation is to be expected, with some groups and individuals experiencing little to no physiological stress. Parental decisions on infant-rearing practices are varied and depend on several cultural, socio-economic, and environmental factors, including the cost/benefit balance of caregiving (Quinlan 2007), the intention to produce other offspring (i.e., lactation amenorrhea; Borgerhoff-Mulder 1992), and the availability of safe and nutritious foods (e.g., Almedon and De Waal 1990;Lindstrom and Berhanu 2000), whose material evidence is almost invisible in the archeological record (for an exception, see Dunne et al. 2019). ...
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The relationship between infant and child feeding practices and early mortality is difficult to address in past societies. Here, stable carbon (δ¹³C) and nitrogen (δ¹⁵N) isotope measurements of bulk bone and sequential dentine samples of deciduous second and/or permanent first molars of four younger children, one older child, one late adolescent, and two young adults (n = 8) from Moro de Alins cave, north-eastern Iberia, are used to explore the potential impact of early-life nutrition on mortality in the Bronze Age. Isotope results are compatible with generally short exclusive breastfeeding and standard weaning periods compared to other pre-modern populations. However, there are differences in exclusive breastfeeding mean δ¹³C values and in Δ¹³C trophic shifts between exclusive breastfeeding and immediate post-weaning isotope values for those individuals who survived into adolescence and adulthood and those who did not. While the former seem to be consistent with trophic distances published for modern mother–infant pairs, the latter are above most of them. This may suggest that individuals who consumed similar foods to their mothers or suffered from less physiological stress during or after weaning had greater chances of survival during early childhood and beyond. Post-weaning seems to have been a particularly stressful period of life, where a number of instances of patterns of opposing isotopic covariance compatible with catabolic changes, often preceding death among non-survivors, are detected. This outcome shows the key role of nutritional and/or physiological status in early-life morbidity and mortality among partially and especially fully weaned children from pre-antibiotic, pre-vaccination, and poor sanitation contexts and proposes that adult survival is rooted in early life experiences, in keeping with the developmental origins of health and disease.
... Unfortunately, weaning food left little mark in the archeological record. Beyond occasional chance finds (Dunne et al., 2019;Stefanovi c et al., 2019), the current understanding of prehistoric weaning food is mainly informed by historical and ethnographic data. ...
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A clear understanding of past weaning practices can provide invaluable insights into social issues such as infant care, fertility rate, and demographic patterns in past societies. This study presents the first archeological research employing compound specific isotope analysis (CSIA) for the reconstruction of past weaning practices. Weaning practices of two Middle Neolithic communities in the Paris Basin region: Balloy (BLR) and Vignely (VPB), are evaluated by combining previously published bone collagen stable carbon, nitrogen, and sulfur (n = 66) isotope analysis with new compound specific carbon and nitrogen isotope compositions of bone collagen (n = 10). Our results demonstrate that the diets of individuals from BLR and VPB likely incorporated freshwater resources. The signals of freshwater resources consumption are even stronger among subadults, suggesting that freshwater resources were used as weaning food at these sites. The implications of our result are threefold. Currently many CSIA studies in archeology only involve either carbon or nitrogen. Our data shows that it is important to conduct CSIA on both carbon and nitrogen for a more integrated picture. Secondly, our data demonstrates that the use of a protein‐based weaning food—instead of a starch‐based weaning food (such as cereal gruel)—was likely more prevalent among the Middle Neolithic communities in the Paris Basin Region than previously thought. The finding thus prompts a rethinking of the role of protein‐based weaning food in other archeological contexts. Lastly, the common assumption that weaning foods and adult diets share similar isotopic compositions can be problematic, as the use of protein‐based, high trophic‐level weaning foods can skew the δ15N weaning curve and produce an erroneously late estimation for weaning ages.
... Dunne et al., investigating lipid residues found in ceramic bottles employed for childhood nutrition and determined ∆ 13 C values between −3.4‰ and −3.7‰, which is attributable to the use of dairy ruminant products. Only in the case of one sample were the ∆ 13 C values in the range between the dairy and non-ruminant fats, suggesting a possible mixing in the pottery vessel of pig or probably human milk with dairy products [64]. In another paper, Dunne and co-workers confirmed that C 16:0 and C 18:0 FFAs δ 13 C values are particularly useful to gain information on biosynthetic and dietary origin of fats detected in pottery from different ancient periods. ...
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Several studies have been performed so far for the effective recovery, detection and quantification of specific compounds and their degradation products in archaeological materials. According to the literature, lipid molecules are the most durable and widespread biomarkers in ancient pottery. Artificial ageing studies to simulate lipid alterations over time have been reported. In this review, specific lipid archaeological biomarkers and well-established sampling and extraction methodologies are discussed. Although suitable analytical techniques have unraveled archaeological questions, some issues remain open such as the need to introduce innovative and miniaturized protocols to avoid extractions with organic solvents, which are often laborious and non-environmentally friendly.
... The child from Britain may have been able to breastfeed, but very likely the children represented by the other adult examples were not. Feeding was by spoon or other modifications that have been lost to us over time, although there is also evidence of bottle feeding in archaeological records (Drinkall and Foreman 1998;Dunne et al. 2019). These examples show that parental devotion to infant rearing-perhaps in contrast to common practice in many communities-is not just a phenomenon of our time but was also an ethic of the distant past (Dettwyler 1991). ...
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Orofacial clefts are a common developmental anomaly in living individuals; however, skulls with clefts are relatively rarely found in archaeological specimens. The presented research is dealing with the first and only historical skeletal case of cleft lip and palate from the territory of Slovakia. The skeletal remains belonged to a juvenile male impiously buried in a storage pit together with an adult male. The position of the skeletons strongly suggests that the deposition of the two bodies was a single event, dated to the mid-seventeenth century or in the late eighteenth century calAD. A juvenile male found in a squatting position at the bottom of the pit was affected by an incomplete unilateral cleft palate combined with a right-sided cleft lip. The defect was associated with dental anomalies and defects such as supernumerary teeth and enamel hypoplasia, as well as dysmorphology of the facial complex. Both the affected juvenile male and the adult male consumed meat, indicating their stable, if not higher, social status. That, coupled with the fact that the individual with cleft lived to the age of 16–18 years, suggests that at least this younger male must have been well cared for and lived in an economically and socially stable environment. The buried males were not biologically related and were probably of Western European origin. All these facts indicate that they were travelling foreigners from the higher class who died unexpectedly with a possibility of a violent death.
... The spouted vessel is 20 cm wide and 15 cm high. Although this vessel was most likely too large to serve as an individual drinking vessel, some smaller spouted vessels from Bronze and Iron Age Europe have been found with subadults and bearing the residues of dairy products (Dunne et al. 2019). The spouted vessel was placed in front of the infant's face in the grave. ...
This project considers the status and health experiences of subadults in Late Bronze-Iron II northwestern Iran (1450 – 800 B.C.E.) using osteological and archaeological analysis. It investigates how wealth, status, and health interact with the rise of fortified citadels during ca. 1450 – 1000 B.C.E. and the beginning of urbanization and imperial conflict ca. 1000 – 800 B.C.E. First, I analyze subadult skeletal remains, focusing on cribra orbitalia, a stress marker that has been linked with a wide array of causes, including anemia, malaria, and parasite infection. Second, I consider the wider context of where these subadults were buried and how they may have lived, by analyzing, grave type, associated personal materials, and burial goods. A biocultural approach is applied to thread together the concepts of subadults in archaeology, mortuary practice, social status, age estimation, and skeletal stress. I analyzed 64 subadult skeletons from three contemporaneous skeletal samples from two archaeological sites: 5 from the cemetery context of Dinkha Tepe (1450 – 800 B.C.E.); 26 from the cemetery of Hasanlu (1450 – 800 B.C.E.); and 33 from the destruction level of Hasanlu (c. 800 B.C.E.). At the regional center of Hasanlu, a cemetery was located on the Low Mound outside of the fortified citadel whereas the subadults recovered from the destruction level had sought refuge on the High Mound during a military conflict. The cemetery at the smaller provincial town of Dinkha Tepe was likely located just outside of the town. Results indicate that the relationship between stress and social status as expressed in burial context, grave goods, and other material culture was complex. The cemetery context included more infants and children than adolescents, whereas the destruction level sample included more children and adolescents and fewer infants. Data showed cribra orbitalia was more frequent in the cemetery population at Hasanlu than in the destruction level or cemetery population at Dinkha Tepe. Cemetery burials do not appear to be segregated by age or elite status. Social status as assessed in this dissertation was not a mitigating factor for cribra orbitalia. Skeletal and archaeological data together present a more holistic picture than from either source independently.
Searching for residue in the glaze of porcelain or stoneware is a difficult task because these glazes are high-fired, well vitrified, and nonporous. This paper analyzes the chemical composition of residue observed in glaze cracks of porcelain via SEM-EDS to determine how the crackle effect was produced, in particular, if it was intentionally created during production or the result of post-depositional processes. This study offers insights to a specific type of ancient Chinese porcelain called “Ge-type ware”, which has two different types of cracks, and whose origin has been debated for nearly 60 years because it has never been found at any kiln site. This paper analyzes the chemical composition of the two crack types, first using elemental mapping to ascertain the different mechanisms that produced these two crack types of the Heirloom Ge ware, and second using residue analysis and chemical fingerprinting to determine the provenance of this puzzling type of porcelain. In doing so, this paper demonstrates how the residue in the glaze of porcelain can be observed and analyzed via microchemical approaches and hopes to inspire more research using this technique in future.
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In European and many African, Middle Eastern and southern Asian populations, lactase persistence (LP) is the most strongly selected monogenic trait to have evolved over the past 10,000 years1. Although the selection of LP and the consumption of prehistoric milk must be linked, considerable uncertainty remains concerning their spatiotemporal configuration and specific interactions2,3. Here we provide detailed distributions of milk exploitation across Europe over the past 9,000 years using around 7,000 pottery fat residues from more than 550 archaeological sites. European milk use was widespread from the Neolithic period onwards but varied spatially and temporally in intensity. Notably, LP selection varying with levels of prehistoric milk exploitation is no better at explaining LP allele frequency trajectories than uniform selection since the Neolithic period. In the UK Biobank4,5 cohort of 500,000 contemporary Europeans, LP genotype was only weakly associated with milk consumption and did not show consistent associations with improved fitness or health indicators. This suggests that other reasons for the beneficial effects of LP should be considered for its rapid frequency increase. We propose that lactase non-persistent individuals consumed milk when it became available but, under conditions of famine and/or increased pathogen exposure, this was disadvantageous, driving LP selection in prehistoric Europe. Comparison of model likelihoods indicates that population fluctuations, settlement density and wild animal exploitation—proxies for these drivers—provide better explanations of LP selection than the extent of milk exploitation. These findings offer new perspectives on prehistoric milk exploitation and LP evolution. Examination of archaeological pottery residues and modern genes suggest that environmental conditions, subsistence economics and pathogen exposure may explain selection for lactase persistence better than prehistoric consumption of milk.
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A great variety of written sources broach the issue of childlessness and infertility in medieval Europe. Nevertheless, the material legacy of infertility has rarely been the topic of research. Therefore, we will discuss the potential of archaeological and anthropological sources to shed light on the topic of childlessness. Our contribution is based on case studies from southwest Germany, mainly from the early medieval period. As infertility is one of the main reasons for childlessness, we put special emphasis on archaeological and anthropological approaches to this topic. Our study is based on recovered human remains from archaeological excavations. We discuss medical and pathological reasons for infertility (e. g. vitamin deficiencies , osteoporosis or genetic factors) and examine how the Body Mass Index could influence the fertility of women. Furthermore, we would like to draw light upon archaeological finds and features connected to pregnancies both successful and unsuccessful, birth and baby care. Our synopsis provides a material perspective on childlessness in medieval Europe, which may complement other sources.
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As mammals, human mothers are biologically well adapted to breastfeed their own offspring after birth, ensuring optimal nutrition and bonding between mother and child. In human societies, however, there is considerable variation in the practice and duration of breastfeeding, as well as associated beliefs. Hunter-gatherers typically breastfeed for several years, whereas the adoption of a sedentary lifestyle in farming communities frequently led to a shortening of the breastfeeding period. Stress markers in the human skeleton, dental micro-wear, and isotopic signatures in bones and teeth can inform us about dietary changes and the age of weaning in infancy. Alternatives to breastfeeding include cross-nursing and wet-nursing, and feeding with animal milk or grain-based alternatives. Feeding vessels of the late Bronze and early Iron Ages may be evidence of such practices.
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This article aims to provide an overview of some of the more important developments in the bioarchaeology of childhood over the past decade. Analysis of publication trends in the major osteoarchaeology and physical anthropology journals demonstrated a rise in research papers dealing with skeletal remains of children, with dietary and palaeopathological studies especially predominant. Innovations in these areas are discussed in more detail, together with some important developments in theoretical frameworks for using skeletal evidence to situate children in past societies. Among these latter is the life course approach, in which childhood is considered within the context of the trajectory of the entire life course. The integration of studies of child skeletal remains with those of adults helps to provide a more complete picture of communities in the past.
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Understanding the role and importance of nutrition in early postnatal life, as an influence on lifelong vulnerability to poor health, is an important part of current research. We need to be able to define optimal patterns of infant feeding, not just to support growth and development in infancy, but also as determinants of later health. To date, much of the focus on the long-term effects of infant nutrition has been on milk feeding, to compare breast and formula feeding and to evaluate the effects of exclusivity, timing and duration of feeding different types of milk in infancy; other aspects of infant feeding such as age at introduction of solid foods and type of weaning diet have received less attention, and relatively little is known about their links to later health. Contemporary data are needed to enable us to move beyond explanation of historical infant feeding data in order to understand and predict health outcomes in future generations. Ongoing and new population studies, that include infants from diverse settings, will be key to providing generalizable data that can be used to define optimal feeding practice. There are some methodological challenges ahead, although significant progress has already been made, and further progress is envisaged in the future. In particular, the opportunity to bring together epidemiological studies and new mechanistic insights that will help identify key aspects of infant nutrition and their causal effects offer great promise both in moving this field forward as well as the potential for health benefits for future generations.
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Animal milks have been used in infant feeding for at least a few millennia, but this can only have become a common practice after the domestication of dairy animals during the Neolithic. Neolithic population increase has often been attributed to the effect of a reduction in breastfeeding duration on female fertility. It is possible, therefore, that animal milks were first introduced to the infant diet at this time as a replacement for the lost breastmilk. Milks are complex liquids and are species specific. The consumption of the milk of one species by the infants of another thus has implications for the welfare of those infants. This paper reviews some of the differences between the milks of three ruminant species and human milk and discusses what the health consequences of introducing these animal milks to the infant diet are likely to have been. It is argued that, except in extreme circumstances, animal milks would fail to adequately compensate for the reduction in breastmilk consumption. Fermented milk products could however have been valuable weaning foods if consumed alongside other iron-rich products.
The duration of the breastfeeding and weaning periods is very much a combination of environmental and cultural elements and the study of those practices in historical populations is most useful because it allows the identification of patterns and trends over a long-term perspective. A number of studies have attempted to write the history of infant feeding in Western civilisations from a historical perspective but progress in stable isotope analysis in archaeology provides additional information that makes the overall picture much more varied and interesting. While a great deal of research and work is still required, the data available highlights trends that seem to indicate that shorter breastfeeding times were practiced in societies characterised by urban developments.
Despite the significant achievements of organic residues analysis of archaeological pottery, the sometimes low lipid recovery and the need to process increasingly large collections of sherds to tackle important archaeological questions require the development of a more efficient and rapid extraction method. In this paper we present a novel methodology for the extraction of absorbed organic residues directly from crushed archaeological ceramic using acidified methanol (H2SO4-MeOH 2% v/v, 70 °C, 1 h). This new protocol was tested by: (i) verifying the recovery of organic residues from previously studied archaeological vessels from different geographical regions, exhibiting a range of different lipid distributions often found in archaeological pottery, and (ii) demonstrating enhanced recovery of organic residues from potsherds that did not yield appreciable lipids when using the widely applied chloroform-methanol extraction. The application of the direct acidified methanol extraction recovers higher concentrations of lipid residues together with simultaneous production of methyl esters of fatty acids, allowing extraction and methylation to be completed in 20% of the time compared to conventional solvent extraction and derivatisation for gas chromatography (GC), gas chromatography mass spectrometry (GC-MS) and gas chromatography combustion isotope ratio mass spectrometry (GC-C-IRMS).
Breastfeeding and weaning behaviour in prehistoric and later populations can be investigated using biomolecular studies of archaeological bones and teeth. This involves the analysis of isotope ratios which are indicative of diet. Nitrogen isotopes have been used for this purpose for some years, but there is increasing evidence to suggest that other chemical elements can be used to refine the interpretation, and that the comparison of dental and bone data can lead to an increased precision in considering weaning chronologies. This paper is intended to give an overview of why understanding infant diet in the past is important, what has been achieved so far in terms of isotope studies, and where the future may lie for this area of research. It is intended to inform about the possibilities at a general level, rather than provide a detailed description of the techniques.
Although the health benefits of breastfeeding are acknowledged widely, opinions and recommendations are divided on the optimal duration of exclusive breastfeeding. We systematically reviewed available evidence concerning the effects on child health, growth, and development and on maternal health of exclusive breastfeeding for 6 months vs. exclusive breastfeeding for 3–4 months followed by mixed breastfeeding (introduction of complementary liquid or solid foods with continued breastfeeding) to 6 months. Two independent literature searches were conducted, together comprising the following databases: MEDLINE (as of 1966), Index Medicus (prior to 1966), CINAHL, HealthSTAR, BIOSIS, CAB Abstracts, EMBASE-Medicine, EMBASE-Psychology, Econlit, Index Medicus for the WHO Eastern Mediterranean Region, African Index Medicus, Lilacs (Latin American and Carribean literature), EBM Reviews-Best Evidence, the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, and the Cochrane Controlled Trials Register. No language restrictions were imposed. The two searches yielded a total of 2,668 unique citations. Contacts with experts in the field yielded additional published and unpublished studies. Studies were stratified according to study design (controlled trials vs. observational studies) and provenance (developing vs. developed countries). The main outcome measures were weight and length gain, weight-for-age and length-for-age z-scores, head circumference, iron status, gastrointestinal and respiratory infectious morbidity, atopic eczema, asthma, neuromotor development, duration of lactational amenorrhea, and maternal postpartum weight loss. Twenty independent studies meeting the selection criteria were identified by the literature search: 9 from developing countries (2 of which were controlled trials in Honduras) and 11 from developed countries (all observational studies). Neither the trials nor the observational studies suggest that infants who continue to be exclusively breastfed for 6 months show deficits in weight or length gain, although larger sample sizes would be required to rule out modest increases in the risk of undernutrition. The data are conflicting with respect to iron status but suggest that, at least in developing-country settings, where iron stores of newborn infants may be suboptimal, exclusive breastfeeding without iron supplementation through 6 months of age may compromise hematologic status. Based primarily on an observational analysis of a large randomized trial in Belarus, infants who continue exclusive breastfeeding for 6 months or more appear to have a significantly reduced risk of one or more episodes of gastrointestinal tract infection. No significant reduction in risk of atopic eczema, asthma, or other atopic outcomes has been demonstrated in studies from Finland, Australia, and Belarus. Data from the two Honduran trials suggest that exclusive breastfeeding through 6 months of age is associated with delayed resumption of menses and more rapid postpartum weight loss in the mother. Infants who are breastfed exclusively for 6 months experience less morbidity from gastrointestinal tract infection than infants who were mixed breastfed as of 3 or 4 months of age. No deficits have been demonstrated in growth among infants from either developing or developed countries who are exclusively breastfed for 6 months or longer. Moreover, the mothers of such infants have more prolonged lactational amenorrhea and faster postpartum weight loss. Based on the results of this review, the World Health Assembly adopted a resolution to recommend exclusive breastfeeding for 6 months to its member countries. Large randomized trials are recommended in both developed and developing countries to ensure that exclusive breastfeeding for 6 months does not increase the risk of undernutrition (growth faltering), to confirm the health benefits reported thus far, and to investigate other potential effects on health and development, especially over the long term.
Ovine milk fat obtained from milk collected from five different flocks was studied to determine its triacylglycerol (TAG) composition using a combination of gas chromatography/mass spectrometry. One hundred and thirty-four molecular species of TAG were identified, but not all could be quantified because some peaks contained more than one species of TAG. Fifty-one per cent of the identified species were trisaturated TAGs, 31% as monounsaturated TAGs and 18% as polyunsaturated TAGs. In terms of chain length, 58 of the TAGs identified (43% of the total) contained short-chain (C4 and C6) fatty acids (FAs), 94 (70%) contained medium-chain FAs (C8–C14) and 112 (84%) were composed of long-chain FAs (C16–C18). One hundred and twenty nine chromatographic peaks were detected. The sum of the 35 peaks, each representing>1 mol% of the TAGs, was 75% of total TAGs. Five peaks, each with>3.5 mol% included trisaturated and monounsaturated TAGs; quantitatively, the largest of these peaks (4.5 mol% of the total TAGs) contained two esterified monounsaturated TAGs with C4: 4,16,18:1 or 4,18,16:1, with the former being present at the highest levels. Comparison of the experimental values of TAG composition in ovine milk with the theoretical values derived from the experimental FA content showed that the distribution of the FAs in the TAGs was not random. The TAGs containing a short-chain FA were synthesized preferentially to those TAGs containing three medium- or three long-chain FAs. Our results for ewes’ milk were very similar to those for cows’ and goats’ milk despite the quantitative differences in the TAG profiles of the different species.