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These small vessels may have served to feed sick adults and the elderly, but they were small enough to fit in the hands of a baby.
For this reason, a group of researchers led by the University of Bristol (United Kingdom) set out to study them to verify whether it was the first evidence of prehistoric baby bottles from the Neolithic. They chose three of them and did a chemical and isotopic analysis to identify food residues.
The study confirmed that they contained milk from ruminants of domesticated cattle (sheep or goats). This fact, combined with the presence of the containers next to infant remains, confirms that they were used to feed babies, either to replace human milk or during weaning, as supplementary food.
"We know that clay cups used to feed or wean children first appear in the Neolithic period in Germany around 7,000 years ago and then become more common in the Bronze and Iron Ages in Europe," he explains. Julie Dunne, lead author of the study published in the journalNature and researcher at the University of Bristol.
Until now the foods to replace breast milk in the diets of babies in prehistoric times were not fully known. "This document is important, as it constitutes the first direct evidence that animal milk was contained in these bottles to feed babies," he says.Siân Halcrow, an associate professor at the University of Otago (New Zealand), who is not participating in the study but publishes an opinion article in the same issue of the journal.
Imaginary animal shapes
The tombs are part of a large Iron Age cemetery complex in the lower Altmühl valley in Bavaria. The first covers 99 burials in 72 graves and the last 126 burials.
"Theinfant grave number 80at Dietfurt-Tennisplatz contained an east-west facing burial of a small child (zero to six years old), of which only parts of the skull and long bones were preserved. The first feeding container was placed at the child's feet, with a small bronze bracelet that was found where his left arm would have been, ”Dunne points out.
Thegrave 65at Dietfurt-Tankstelle he understood the burial of a boy fromone year old, placed extended on his back, with the head facing south and the arms bent over the upper part of the body. The second vessel analyzed, shaped like a small tube, was found inside a container placed on the right hip.
“Both glasses were of similar size, about 50mm in diameter, although Vessel I has a much shorter spout. Another broken glass was also analyzed, from a burial of achild from one to two yearsat Augsburg-Haunstetten, a Late Bronze Age necropolis between 1,200 to 800 BC. C. ”, adds the researcher.
These vessels have various shapes, some have feet or heads and shapes of imaginary animals. Similar vessels have appeared in other prehistoric cultures in Rome and ancient Greece, as well as in various parts of the world. "We would like to conduct a larger geographic study and investigate whether they served the same purpose," says Dunne.
Containers at risk of causing infection
The act of introducing animal milk into a baby's diet likely had negative effects on their health and may have made them sick. “The glasses themselves were probably difficult to clean and pose risks of exposure tolife-threatening infectionsfor babies, such asstomach flu”Says Halcrow.
Additional work analyzing the pathology of the skeletal remains of babies may provide clues to the effects that this type of animal milk feeding had on their health, according to scientists.
“Clearly, the babies that were buried with the cups died young, so they were probably not well. We can look for evidence in the bones and teeth for infections or nutritional deficiencies. There are also new methods for evaluating individual stories ofchild weaningthrough stable isotopic analyzes ofearly forming teeth”, Says the scientist.
The Neolithic 'baby boom'
Siân Halcrow makes an analysis in his article on how for years,many archaeologists ignored boys and girls when studying ancient populations. "Now they increasingly recognize its importance when they try to understand the factors that affect previous societies," he emphasizes.
One such example is Neolithic society, a major turning point in human prehistory, known as theNeolithic demographic transition, when there is evidence of a substantial increase in fertility and growth of the number of individuals in human populations, compared to that of previous societies.
The Neolithic period in Europe began around 7000 BC. At this stage some humans began to move away from a hunter-gatherer lifestyle towards one that depended on crops and domesticated animals.
“How did this transition from agriculture to ababy boom? Taking infant feeding into account could provide evidence to answer this question, ”Halcrow concludes.