Milk ‘drove Neolithic immigration of Middle Easterners to Europe’

Saturday, October 16, 2010

BERLIN - New research has revealed that immigration from the Middle East to Europe was driven by the newcomers’ sophisticated culture, mastery of agriculture - and their miracle food, milk.

Archaeologist Birgit Srock is analysing a large Neolithic settlement in the Upper Franconia region of northern Bavaria, discovered by workers during the construction of a high-speed rail line between the German cities of Nuremberg and Berlin, reports Spiegel Online.

This ancient culture provided us with the blessing of bread baking. At around 5300 BC, everyone in Central Europe was suddenly farming and raising livestock. The members of the Linear Pottery culture kept cows in wooden pens, used rubbing stones and harvested grain.

Many academics felt that invasion was the reason behind the rapid shift. However, new excavations in Turkey, as well as genetic analyses of domestic animals and Stone Age skeletons, indicate that around 7000 BC, a mass migration of farmers began from the Middle East to Europe.

These ancient farmers brought along domesticated cattle and pigs. They produced fresh milk, which, as a result of a genetic mutation, they were soon able to drink in large quantities. The result was that the population of farmers grew and grew.

Later, scientists discovered that the first milk drinkers lived in the territory of present-day Austria, Hungary and Slovakia.

There are also signs of conflict. The intruders differed from the continent’s Ice Age inhabitants “through completely different genetic lines,” explained Joachim Burger, an anthropologist from the University of Mainz in southwestern Germany.

The more primitive existing inhabitants looked on in bewilderment as the newcomers deforested their hunting grounds, tilled the soil and planted seeds. This apparently upset them and motivated them to resist the intruders.

It is clear, however, that the dairy farmers won out in the end. During their migration, they encountered increasingly lush pastures, a paradise for their cows. An added benefit of migrating farther to the north was that raw milk lasted longer in the cooler climate.

The new food was especially beneficial for children. In the Neolithic Age, many small children died after being weaned in their fourth year of life. “As a result of consuming healthy milk, this could be greatly reduced,” Hamburg biologist Fritz Hoffeler speculated. All of this led to population growth and, as a result, further geographical expansion.

Burger is convinced that milk played a major part in shaping history, just as gunpowder did much later.

“There was once a white revolution,” he said. (ANI)

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