Using lipid 'fingerprinting' and compound-specific carbon isotope techniques, Bristol University researchers attempted to identify the origin of fats preserved in the walls of around 450 Irish Neolithic cooking pots.
Their findings, which were published last week in the Journal of Environmental Archaeology, suggest that dairy farming on the Emerald Isle goes back approximately 6,000 years.
“Together, these results provide the first unequivocal evidence that dairying in Ireland began in the Neolithic and was being practised by some of the earliest farming communities on the island," the Bristol University School of Chemistry researchers concluded.
These results, the study continues, "go much further than simply providing the earliest evidence for dairying in Ireland" as cattle, sheep and goats were not native to Ireland, and had to be shipped.
“In Europe, the shift in agriculture starts around 7,000 BC, spreading across the continent over several thousand years. The island of Ireland lies geographically and chronologically at the end of this trajectory, in the centuries around 4,000 BC," it said.
“Molecular and stable carbon isotope analyses undertaken of circa 450 pottery vessels from a range of Irish Neolithic sites firmly establishes that dairying is one of the very earliest farming practices in evidence in Ireland, successfully introduced into an island environment that had not supported large mammals for at least the preceding 9,000 years - a significant logistical feat.”
Source: Journal of Environmental Archaeology http://dx.doi.org/10.1179/1749631414Y.0000000045
Title: Milking the megafauna: Using organic residue analysis to understand early farming practice
Authors: Jessica Smyth, Richard Evershed