An international team, which included Russian researchers, analyzed food proteins preserved in the tartar of people who lived 9-3,5 thousand years ago. Scientists have managed to determine when exactly the peoples of the Caucasus and the Eurasian steppes began to consume dairy products, and therefore to breed dairy cattle.
Cattle breeding became an important part of the life of the inhabitants of Europe, Asia and Africa about 9-3.5 thousand years ago. Domestic animals provided people with material for making clothes and tools, as well as food. Archaeological and archeogenetic data suggest that animal husbandry gradually spread in the Pontic-Caspian steppe, stretching from the shores of the Black Sea to the east to the shores of the Caspian Sea. At the same time, it is unclear exactly when this happened and how environmental conditions affected the subsequent migration routes of pastoralists.
"We know even less about when people started dairy farming, especially in the Caucasus," says Natalia Shishlina, a participant in the RNF project, Doctor of Historical Sciences, chief researcher at the Historical Museum and Kunstkamera. — Archaeological artifacts dating back to the very beginning of human pastoral activity do not contain evidence that people bred livestock for milk. However, somewhere this practice had to appear in order to then "capture" Eurasia! By participating in a new project, we decided to sort out the issue."
An international team of scientists investigated the proteome (a set of proteins) preserved in the tartar of 45 people who lived on the territory of the Pontic-Caspian steppe and neighboring regions of the Southern and Northern Caucasus, the Oka-Volga-Don and Eastern Urals 9-3,5 thousand years ago. The approach is quite simple: if a person has eaten dairy products, the corresponding proteins will remain on his teeth. The latter differ in different animal species, and therefore it is often possible to even understand who exactly "fed" people.
The results of the analysis showed that dairy farming existed already 7 thousand years ago in the foothills and steppe zone of the North Caucasus. Interestingly, people drank sheep's milk — therefore, only its proteins were found in the tartar of a person of this period. At the same time, according to archaeological finds, cattle were slaughtered for meat and used in ritual sacrifices and transportation as a draft animal
About 4-5 thousand years ago, the cattle breeders' diet was enriched with goat and cow's milk: the development of economic strategies led to a change in the herd. Now steppe and Caucasian inhabitants bred goats and cows and consumed their milk. Then came the period of drought along with cold winters, people again preferred sheep, who drink less water and survive the cold better. In the end, the conditions became completely unsuitable for livestock, the peoples left the steppes and foothills and climbed to the plateau, where there were still pastures.
About 3 thousand years ago, people again descended into the steppes, but now they are focused on breeding horses. These animals are able to dig up grass from under deep snow, that is, to freeze, and therefore even in winter they find food. They are also better adapted to life in the steppe than sheep. However, such conclusions are based on the work of colleagues, and not on the results of the analysis of the tartar proteome — the authors of the work did not find traces of horse milk in the tartar of people who lived before. Probably, mare's milk was not so widespread in the region, and they were domesticated for other purposes, for example, for the transportation of goods and people.
It is noteworthy that the inhabitants of the Oka-Volga-Don region switched to dairy cattle breeding later than the inhabitants of the Caucasus, only 4 thousand years ago, before that engaged in hunting, gathering and fishing. At the same time, archaeological finds indicate that cattle first appeared here in small quantities 6 thousand years ago.
"It is not very clear why this happened, as well as the connections between the peoples of the studied regions are not completely clear. We have already at least found out when dairy farming arose, but a number of issues have yet to be clarified. Further research in the field of paleogenetics, as well as an analysis of what people and their animals ate, will help in this," Elena Kaverzneva, senior researcher at the Historical Museum, sums up.
The work was attended by employees of the Lomonosov Moscow State University, the Institute of Archaeology of the Russian Academy of Sciences, the State Historical Museum, the State Unitary Enterprise "Heritage" (Stavropol), the Peter the Great Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography of the Russian Academy of Sciences (Kunstkamera), Samara State Socio-Pedagogical University, Lipetsk State Pedagogical University and the Institute of History and Archeology of the Ural Federal District RAS (Yekaterinburg) together with foreign colleagues.
The work, supported by a grant from the Russian Science Foundation (RNF), is published on the pages of the journal Nature Ecology & Evolution.
PHOTO: 7 thousand years ago in the foothills and steppe zone of the North Caucasus, people drank sheep's milk © Adam Jones/Flickr

Certificate of registration of mass media ЭЛ № ФС 77 - 78868 issued by Roskomnadzor on 07.08.2020