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Milk as a pivotal medium in the domestication of cattle, sheep and goats

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter in a book

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationHybrid Communities
Subtitle of host publicationBiosocial Approaches to Domestication and Other Trans-species Relationships
EditorsCharles Stepanoff, Jean-Denis Vigne
Publisher or commissioning bodyCRC Press
Number of pages9
ISBN (Electronic)9781315179988
ISBN (Print)9781138893993
DateAccepted/In press - 14 Dec 2016
DateE-pub ahead of print - 6 Aug 2018
DatePublished (current) - 14 Aug 2018

Publication series

NameRoutledge Studies in Anthropology


The ability to lactate connects us with all mammals big and small, indeed it was the key characteristic used by Linnaeus to determine the taxonomic class Mammalia. The milk of domesticated animals is a rich resource that can be transformed by humans into a myriad of dairy products with long and short shelf-lives. Archaeozoological evidence suggests that perhaps milk was a principal catalyst in the domestication of cattle, sheep and goats starting from 10.5 kyBP. Direct evidence for the processing of milk is found in the first ceramic vessels excavated at early farming communities in Near East and Europe dating from the 9 kyBP indicating that human populations largely intolerant to lactose, the main sugar in milk, were processing milk in ceramic vessels. Innovation in techniques to process milk through cooking and other methods, such as fermentation, to enable milk consumption without adverse side effects, appears to have been a component of the European Neolithic package. For the pioneer farmers of Europe, milk would have offered a renewable food resource as husbandry practices where meat is secondary to milk production ensure the growth of the herd and are more sustainable. The consumption and production of milk has led to significant changes in the genetic structures of humans and dairy species. Here we discuss the role of milk played in the domestication of cattle, sheep and goats, the spread of the Neolithic way of life into Europe, and its lasting effect on food culture and human and animal genetics.



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