Stephan Schiffels

Population Genetics – Computational Methods - Human History

Bleasdale et al. 2021

Ancient proteins provide evidence of dairy consumption in eastern Africa. Nature communications. Published January 27, 2021.

Authors: Madeleine Bleasdale, Kristine K Richter, Anneke Janzen, Samantha Brown, Ashley Scott, Jana Zech, Shevan Wilkin, Ke Wang, Stephan Schiffels, Jocelyne Desideri, Marie Besse, Jacques Reinold, Mohamed Saad, Hiba Babiker, Robert C Power, Emmanuel Ndiema, Christine Ogola, Fredrick K Manthi, Muhammad Zahir, Michael Petraglia, Christian Trachsel, Paolo Nanni, Jonas Grossmann, Jessica Hendy, Alison Crowther, Patrick Roberts, Steven T Goldstein and Nicole Boivin

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Abstract: Consuming the milk of other species is a unique adaptation of Homo sapiens, with implications for health, birth spacing and evolution. Key questions nonetheless remain regarding the origins of dairying and its relationship to the genetically-determined ability to drink milk into adulthood through lactase persistence (LP). As a major centre of LP diversity, Africa is of significant interest to the evolution of dairying. Here we report proteomic evidence for milk consumption in ancient Africa. Using liquid chromatography tandem mass spectrometry (LC-MS/MS) we identify dairy proteins in human dental calculus from northeastern Africa, directly demonstrating milk consumption at least six millennia ago. Our findings indicate that pastoralist groups were drinking milk as soon as herding spread into eastern Africa, at a time when the genetic adaptation for milk digestion was absent or rare. Our study links LP status in specific ancient individuals with direct evidence for their consumption of dairy products.