Neolithic dairy farming at the extreme of agriculture in northern Europe

Proc Biol Sci. 2014 Sep 22;281(1791):20140819. doi: 10.1098/rspb.2014.0819.


The conventional 'Neolithic package' comprised animals and plants originally domesticated in the Near East. As farming spread on a generally northwest trajectory across Europe, early pastoralists would have been faced with the challenge of making farming viable in regions in which the organisms were poorly adapted to providing optimal yields or even surviving. Hence, it has long been debated whether Neolithic economies were ever established at the modern limits of agriculture. Here, we examine food residues in pottery, testing a hypothesis that Neolithic farming was practiced beyond the 60th parallel north. Our findings, based on diagnostic biomarker lipids and δ(13)C values of preserved fatty acids, reveal a transition at ca 2500 BC from the exploitation of aquatic organisms to processing of ruminant products, specifically milk, confirming farming was practiced at high latitudes. Combining this with genetic, environmental and archaeological information, we demonstrate the origins of dairying probably accompanied an incoming, genetically distinct, population successfully establishing this new subsistence 'package'.

Keywords: 60th parallel north; biomarker lipids; dairy farming; incoming prehistoric population; isotopes; lactase persistence.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Agriculture*
  • Archaeology*
  • Dairying*
  • Diet
  • Emigration and Immigration
  • Finland
  • Food Analysis
  • Gene Flow
  • Humans