Bloomberg News

Dairy Farming Started 7,000 Years Ago, Milk Residue Shows

June 20, 2012

Dairy cattle grazed in Saharan Africa as early as 7,000 years ago, according to a study based on milk residue found on shards of pottery.

Cave paintings and cattle remains have suggested that animal farming predated plant cultivation in the once green and humid area, said Julie Dunne, the report’s lead author and a researcher at the University of Bristol in England. The milk residue findings, published in the journal Nature today, confirm that theory.

East Asians developed dairy farming technology before 5,000 B.C., and may have passed it along to Africa, Dunne said. If that’s the case, she said the findings might help to paint a narrative of how and when Asians moved west into Saharan Africa.

“We might get a timeline of migration,” Dunne said in a telephone interview on June 15.

The researchers used a chemical analysis of milk residues absorbed into pottery to date early human dairy consumption. The residues had been processed into products like yogurt and cheese, which Dunne said explains how people consumed dairy food at a time when humans were lactose intolerant.

“We knew absolutely nothing about the chronology in Africa,” Dunne said. “This is really exciting news.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Jeanna Smialek at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Reg Gale at

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