The discovery sheds light on prehistoric diets from the Neolithic era.
A team of scientists led by the University of Bristol provides the first evidence of the prehistoric diets of ancient East African shepherds. The study, published in the scientific journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences it's sensational.
The development of pastoralism is known to have transformed diets and human societies around the world. Pastoralism has been (and still is) the dominant way of life in the vast grasslands of East Africa for thousands of years.
This fact is indicated by the numerous finds of highly fragmented large animal bones. They are in archaeological sites throughout the region, and show the importance of cattle, sheep and goats even for those ancient populations.
Today, tribes in these areas such as the Maasai and Samburu of Kenya live on milk and dairy products (sometimes blood) from their animals, obtaining between 60 and 90% of their calories from them.
Milk is essential for these shepherds and the lack of milk during drought or dry seasons increases vulnerabilities to malnutrition and translates into an increase in the consumption of meat and nutrients from the bone marrow.
We had no direct evidence of how long ago people in East Africa already milked their livestock, how shepherds prepared their food, or what their diet might consist of. To answer this question, the researchers examined ancient potassium fragments from four sites in Kenya and Tanzania.
The Pastoral Neolithic
These are finds covering a period of 4000 years (from 5000 to 1200 BC), known as Pastoral Neolithic. They were analyzed using a combined chemical and isotope approach to identify and quantify the food residues found within the artifacts. An operation that involved the extraction and identification of fatty acids, residues of animal fats absorbed into the wall of the pots during cooking.
The results, published today in the journal PNAS , showed that most of the fragments provided evidence for ruminant meat (cattle, sheep or goats), for processing bones, marrow and fat and for cooking plants, probably in the form of stews.
How exciting it is to be able to use chemical techniques to extract thousands of ancient foods! Finding out what these early shepherds were cooking is a thrill. This work shows that addiction to meat and dairy products has a very long history in the region.Julie Dunne, chool of Chemistry of the University of Bristol.