B.C. Pots, Milk, Climate Change & Red Heads

There are two interesting articles on pots from about 5,000 BC to 7,000 BC (or 7,000 BP to 9,000 BP). Seems they were used for animal products and milk. This left some small amount of fats inside the pots. Somebody didn’t clean the dishes well back then.

At the end of one of the stories they assert that all this milk drinking / use was puzzling as the people of North Africa (where they found these pots) can’t digest milk and they assume that was true in the past so it was a puzzlement how these non-milk digesters could use milk. Well I think it’s pretty blatantly obvious that the people of North Africa and southern Europe now are a different batch of genetics than the people then.

We know the Pharaoh Ramesses II was a redhead. We know he employed Celtic Mercenaries. We also know that cattle herding originated in upper central Eurasia and spread down and west along with the folks who invented it; and we know redheads originated in the same place. Then further we know that North Africa has been invaded and run over so many times just in recorded history that it would be darned silly to think that didn’t do anything. We also know the Cattle Herding agriculturalists who entered Europe displaced an older people closer to the Basque type. Vandals, Goths, Romans, Phoenicians, Greeks and of course Mohammad’s Arab conquest; just to name a few. So IMHO when they get around to testing the bones, they will find “Northern European” genetic types when it comes to milk digesting.

With that out of the way, the two articles:


Widespread evidence of prehistoric dairying discovered along the Mediterranean coast
November 15, 2016, University of Bristol

An inter-disciplinary team of scientists and archaeologists have discovered widespread evidence of prehistoric milk production in southern Europe.

The study uncovered evidence that humans have been utilising milk and dairy products across the northern Mediterranean region from the onset of agriculture – some 9,000 years ago.

That 9,000 BP date is consistent with the estimated arrival time of the animal herders from the north as they migrated out of Eurasia and eventually into Western Europe.

The importance of meat and dairy production in the Neolithic Mediterranean area remains a topic of debate, with previous research showing that the attraction for milk may have been a driving force for the domestication of cud-chewing animals like cows, goats and sheep.

This study combined evidence of the presence of milk and carcass fats in more than 500 pottery vessels together with an examination of the ages at death of domesticated animals excavated from 82 sites dating from the 7th to 5th millennia BC.

The findings show varying intensities of dairying and non-dairying activities in the northern Mediterranean region, with the slaughter profiles of the animals mirroring the fats detected in cooking pots.
Professor Richard Evershed, also from the University of Bristol, added: “Our earlier work had demonstrated that milk use was highly regionalised in the Near East in the 7th millennium BC, and this new multidisciplinary study further emphasises the existence of diverse use of animal products in the northern Mediterranean Neolithic.

“Dairying was clearly practiced both in the east and west of the region, but it is still surprisingly barely detectable in Northern Greece, where the lipids from pots and the animal bones tell the same story: meat production was the main activity not dairying.”

Dr Rosalind Gillis and Dr Jean-Denis Vigne, archaeozoologists at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique in the National Museum of Natural History in Paris added: “The choice of raising certain domesticates for their milk would have been heavily influenced by the landscape around the Neolithic communities. For example, rugged terrains are more suitable for sheep and goats. And open well-watered landscapes are better suited for cattle.”

While I’m slightly amused to find that the researchers know browsers like browse from shrubby hillsides and grazers like grass from flat meadows, one wonders if they have ever visited farm country to learn about the animals… Then there’s that point that the movement of the cattle herding culture had not yet reached northern Greece. Genetic studies in Europe have shown that the cattle herding / agriculture group moved in via fertile valleys and the residual more ancient genetic type survived up in the hills where agriculture was less beneficial.

So what is the nature of Greece?


Greece is primarily a mountainous country with more than 300 larger or smaller mountains. The most significant Greek mountain axis is the Pindus Mountain range, forming the “backbone” of Mainland Greece, which extends naturally to the mountains in the Peloponnese and Crete. In addition, the majority of the islands are in fact the mountain peaks of the now submerged landmass of Aegeis, which at one time linked Mainland Greece with Asia Minor.

The highest mountain in the country is Mount Olympus in Macedonia -known from Greek mythology as the home of the gods- reaching a height of 2,917 m (Mytikas peak), while about 40 mountain ranges throughout the country exceed elevations of 2,000 m.

The Greek mountains are characterized by their diversity, rare scenery and unique forests, some of which rank among the oldest natural wooded lands in Europe. Due to the unsurpassable rich flora and fauna, many are protected as National Parks, while at the same time the infrastructure that was developed over the last few decades has created ideal destinations for those daring tourists who want to enjoy winter and mountain activities.

Not exactly Texas flat… so not much of a surprise that the cattle herders chose other flatter places first. It might be interesting to do a ‘relative redhead density’ study of Greece vs France… we already know the French love their cheese.

Then the “off the rails” moment in that pottery article where they leap off the cliff of assumption about the local people today vs 8000 years ago.

Professor Oliver Craig, from the University of York, said the findings were particularly relevant as much of the population in that region today can’t digest milk.

He added: “We presume this was also true back in the early Neolithic period, although this is still to be confirmed through genetic testing of ancient skeletons. Despite this deficiency, our research shows that they certainly exploited milk because we have found organic remnants in the pots they were using.”

Dr Roffet-Salque added: “What is particularly intriguing is that lactose intolerance was clearly no barrier to milk use.

“The major question that still remains is how the milk was being processed to make it palatable to these early Neolithic farmers.”

Oh Well… I guess it is easier to get consistent funding if you are researching something that will never be finished. (Maybe someone ought to point out milk in skins tends to make yogurt or kefir without modern refrigeration…via lacto-bacillus…)

Then the second article finds evidence for the 8.2 Kilo Year Event in milk fat in pottery:


New study reveals evidence of how Neolithic people adapted to climate change
August 13, 2018, University of Bristol

Research led by the University of Bristol has uncovered evidence that early farmers were adapting to climate change 8,200 years ago.

The study, published today in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS), centred on the Neolithic and Chalcolithic city settlement of Çatalhöyük in southern Anatolia, Turkey which existed from approximately 7500 BC to 5700 BC.

During the height of the city’s occupation a well-documented climate change event 8,200 years ago occurred which resulted in a sudden decrease in global temperatures caused by the release of a huge amount of glacial meltwater from a massive freshwater lake in northern Canada.

Examining the animal bones excavated at the site, scientists concluded that the herders of the city turned towards sheep and goats at this time, as these animals were more drought-resistant than cattle. Study of cut marks on the animal bones informed on butchery practices: the high number of such marks at the time of the climate event showed that the population worked on exploiting any available meat due to food scarcity.

OK, so they had some food scarcity and had to shift the species they farmed. Got it. Store some food and be ready to shift type of crop and animals farmed. Keep a couple of sheep or goats penned on the farm even if you do run cattle on most of your land. Just as breeding stock ‘should that need arise’..

Note that the 8.2 KY Event is 6.2 KY B.C. and right in the middle of their 5.7 KY B.C. to 7.5 KY B.C. life span of the city they were studying. They baldly assert the 8.2 KYE was caused by a melt water pulse, yet it is a Bond Event and we know those are periodic on a roughly 1500 year cycle.


In climatology, the 8.2-kiloyear event was a sudden decrease in global temperatures that occurred approximately 8,200 years before the present, or c. 6,200 BC, and which lasted for the next two to four centuries. It defines the start of the Northgrippian age in the Holocene epoch. Milder than the Younger Dryas cold spell before it but more severe than the Little Ice Age after it, the 8.2-kiloyear cooling was a significant exception to general trends of the Holocene climatic optimum. During the event, atmospheric methane concentration decreased by 80 ppb, an emission reduction of 15%, by cooling and drying at a hemispheric scale.

So colder than the L.I.A. and a lot colder than the Holocene Climatic Optimum. Yet they were able to survive and raise cattle.

A rapid cooling around 6200 BC was first identified by Swiss botanist Heinrich Zöllner in 1960, who named the event Misox oscillation (for the Val Mesolcina). It is also known as Finse event in Norway. Bond et al. argued that the origin of the 8.2-kiloyear event is linked to a 1,500-year climate cycle; it correlates with Bond event 5.

The strongest evidence for the event comes from the North Atlantic region; the disruption in climate shows clearly in Greenland ice cores and in sedimentary and other records of the temperate and the tropical North Atlantic. It is less evident in ice cores from Antarctica and in South American indices. The effects of the cold snap were global, however, most notably in its changes in sea level.

Yet even the wiki talks about the melt water pulse; but at least puts it in perspective with a “may”:

Cooling event

The event may have been caused by a large meltwater pulse from the final collapse of the Laurentide Ice Sheet of northeastern North America, most likely when the glacial lakes Ojibway and Agassiz suddenly drained into the North Atlantic Ocean. The same type of action produced the Missoula floods that created the Channeled scablands of the Columbia River basin. The meltwater pulse may have affected the North Atlantic thermohaline circulation, reducing northward heat transport in the Atlantic and causing significant North Atlantic cooling. Estimates of the cooling vary and depend somewhat on the interpretation of the proxy data, but drops of around 1 to 5 °C (1.8 to 9.0 °F) have been reported. In Greenland, the event started at 8175 BP, and the cooling was 3.3 °C (decadal average) in less than 20 years. The coldest period lasted for about 60 years, and its total duration was about 150 years. The meltwater causation theory is, however, thrown into speculation because of inconsistencies with its onset and an unknown region of impact.

Researchers suggest that the discharge was probably superimposed upon a longer episode of cooler climate lasting up to 600 years, and it was merely one contributing factor to the event as a whole.

Further afield, some tropical records report a 3 °C (5.4 °F) cooling from cores drilled into an ancient coral reef in Indonesia. The event also caused a global CO2 decline of about 25 ppm over about 300 years.
However, dating and interpretation of other tropical sites are more ambiguous than the North Atlantic sites. In addition, climate modeling work shows that the amount of meltwater and the pathway of meltwater are both important in perturbing the North Atlantic thermohaline circulation.

Notice that 3 C drop of ocean temperatures? So the world can, all by itself, take a 3 C excursion, and rebound, with the decline inside 20 years, have a cold pulse that lasts 60 years, inside a longer 150 year recovery. No SUVs nor cars involved.

Then notice CO2 dropped by 25 ppm over 300 years. Gee… taking longer than the cold pulse, so clearly CO2 not causal of the temperature change. Yet just as clearly the temperature change causing the CO2 change via cold water stripping it from the air due to the higher ability to dissolve in cold water.

Generally such processes are symmetrical, so this ought to be seen as proof the other way, too: That rising temperatures cause CO2 rises.

Now further consider that over that roughly 200 year period the world took a 3 C swing down, then back up. So two whipsaws of temperature. And we lived through it, agriculture survived, and cultures continued to advance to modernity. I’d say that bodes very well for the ability of modern highly technical skilled people who can live in climates ranging from Death Valley heat to Antarctica to be able to adapt to a 2 C rise. Especially given that it is just back toward the Holocene Climate Optimum and a rebound from the Little Ice Age.

Greenland GISP2 Temperatures with Holocene Optimum 2 C Warmer Than Present

Back at that second pottery article:

The authors also examined the animal fats surviving in ancient cooking pots. They detected the presence of ruminant carcass fats, consistent with the animal bone assemblage discovered at Çatalhöyük. For the first time, compounds from animal fats detected in pottery were shown to carry evidence for the climate event in their isotopic composition.

Indeed, using the “you are what you eat (and drink)” principle, the scientists deducted that the isotopic information carried in the hydrogen atoms (deuterium to hydrogen ratio) from the animal fats was reflecting that of ancient precipitation. A change in the hydrogen signal was detected in the period corresponding to the climate event, thus suggesting changes in precipitation patterns at the site at that time.

So now it looks like we’ve got a new “thermometer” that will need adjusting by the Adjustocene Guardians Of Myth…

Dr. Mélanie Roffet-Salque, lead author of the paper, said: “Changes in precipitation patterns in the past are traditionally obtained using ocean or lake sediment cores.

“This is the first time that such information is derived from cooking pots. We have used the signal carried by the hydrogen atoms from the animal fats trapped in the pottery vessels after cooking.

“This opens up a completely new avenue of investigation—the reconstruction of past climate at the very location where people lived using pottery.”

Co-author, Professor Richard Evershed, added: “It is really significant that the climate models of the event are in complete agreement with the H signals we see in the animal fats preserved in the pots.

“The models point to seasonal changes farmers would have had to adapt to—overall colder temperatures and drier summers—which would have had inevitable impacts on agriculture.”

Well, there’s a lot of pottery in museum collections of the world…

I don’t know the resolution of this pottery precipitation / temperature meter, but it’s yet another line of evidence. Climate changes, all on it’s own, often with a 1500 year period (and many shorter cycles too). Natural Temperature changes change CO2 concentration. Agriculture and life and human civilization adapt. And that’s OK.

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About E.M.Smith

A technical managerial sort interested in things from Stonehenge to computer science. My present "hot buttons' are the mythology of Climate Change and ancient metrology; but things change...
This entry was posted in AGW Climate Perspective, Earth Sciences, Emergency Preparation and Risks, Food, Global Warming General, History and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to B.C. Pots, Milk, Climate Change & Red Heads

  1. H.R. says:

    From the 2nd article: “For the first time, compounds from animal fats detected in pottery were shown to carry evidence for the climate event in their isotopic composition.”

    Silly me. All this time I’ve been looking at our thermometer when I should have been checking the cooking pots.

    I suppose the only reason the ancients survived was because because they raised taxes, banned firearms, eliminated fossil fuel use, and formed a one-world government. (No one ever finds any firearms in old archeological digs which is proof that they were banned.)

    Just wait until they find some 8,200 year-old cheese in one of those pots. If there is a Frenchman in the group, they’ll be able to get a determination of the quality of the cheese, although No True Frenchman would ever admit that it was as good as French cheese.

    All in all, it is is amazing how this report is able to get such a wholesale return of conjecture for such a trifling investment of facts.

  2. H.R. says:

    Per the fats as temperature or climate indicators: Could the temperatures reached in cooking the meats have more to do with the deuterium to hydrogen ratio than the climate?

    I don’t know how they determined that the deuterium to hydrogen ratio was a valid proxy, but I do know that different temperatures have different effects upon fats. Also, what compounds that were cooked along with the meats may have altered the chemistry, particularly acidic components.

    There is a whole lot of chemistry going on in a cooking pot, but most people are interested in a flavor analysis of the reactions, not a chemical analysis.

  3. Ian W says:

    There is an interesting coincidence of dates. At around 9,000 years BP the Laurentide ice sheet was melting this was leading to steady sea level rise. One area that was affected by this was Doggerland https://www.nationalgeographic.org/maps/doggerland/
    The North Europeans in Doggerland were no doubt the ones that slowly migrated South as they were flooded out along the fertile valleys into the Mediterranean coastal areas. Eventually, Doggerland was completely inundated when lake Agassiz broke through the ice dam and the pulse of cold fresh water possibly at the same time as a Bond / Dansgaard–Oeschger event resulted in a significant climate change for sometime.

  4. Soronel Haetir says:

    One use that lactose intolerant peoples have for milk is alcohol production feed-stock. There are still milk-based alcohol products from the far east. Fermentation directly uses sugars, although I suspect that anyone involved in any kind of agriculture have better sugar options than milk (the milk-sourced alcohols I’m aware of are mainly successors to nomadic Mongolian drinks).

  5. cdquarles says:

    @ Soronel,
    For lactose intolerant people (I’m one of these, and it began within 30 days of my 17th birthday), any kind of fermentation helps these people continue to be able to get sustenance from any mammalian milk, even without getting ethanol as a product. [Hmm, my sister and her progeny are not lactose intolerant, as far as I know, to the extent that I am intolerant. Remember, not all lactose intolerance is ‘full’ intolerance, that is, complete loss of the ability to absorb or metabolize lactose. I have not asked my children if they are lactose intolerant, simply because they’ve never mentioned it and they’re all quite grown up now. Eh, I won’t worry about it.]

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