Breast or bottle? Obviously, infant parents have been thinking about these options for thousands of years.
So suggests a new study published on Wednesday in the journal Nature . Researchers report discovering non-human milk debris inside an ancient clay bowl that sometimes contains legs and animal-shaped heads. The earliest examples of this type of vessel – which researchers refer to as prehistoric baby bottles – date back more than 7,000 years.
"I can only imagine a little prehistoric kid getting one of them with milk in it and laughing," says the newspaper's lead author, archeologist Julie Dunn of the University of Bristol. "They are just fun. They are also like a small toy. "She says that animal-shaped vessels appear to be" mythical animals "rather than realistically depicting any particular kind of being.
Researchers say that the milk molecules they have identified are chemical and isotopic analysis, came from a ruminant family that includes sheep, goats and cows. "This is the first time we have been able to identify the types of foods fed to prehistoric babies," says Dunn.
The vessels that Dun and her team are sampled are Found in baby graves from the Bronze and Iron Ages in Bavaria, Germany, she says they are a kind of pottery that first appeared in the Neolithic period, at a time when Europeans made the transition from hunting societies to agrarian communities. " Only when humans begin to domesticate animals do these foods become available for feeding or weaning babies, "says Dunn.
The discovery can help explain what lies behind the mainstream prehistoric baby boom in this era, according to Sian Halkrow, a bioarchaeologist in Univ rsiteta of Otago in New Zealand.
So far, scientists have not "acknowledged that introducing animal milk into the breastfeeding diet could alter a woman's fertility," says Halkrow, who did not participate in the study. She wrote a comment that appeared in Nature along with a new study to provide context.
"There is clinical evidence that when breastfeeding women, they have a period of infertility," says Halkrow. "So if women don't breastfeed their babies all the time – for example, because they use animal milk to wean their babies earlier -" they could actually have more babies throughout their lives and this could lead to an increase in numbers of the population. "
" This could lead to some changes in the population we are seeing around the Neolithic [era] with a large demographic explosion, "she says.
But this growing population may come at the expense of human health. "Human breast milk is ideal for babies," says Halkrow. "In terms of macro-nutrients, micro-nutrients, immune cells. And cow's milk is obviously not such a good full-fledged baby food. "She says it is possible for prehistoric people to slowly add animal milk to baby diets, but if babies were completely removed from human milk too early in their lives," it would
"And these bottles would be so difficult to clean," adds Halkrow. "Remember, they don't have access to clean water in the first place. But get into those little little spikes? They would really be unhygienic for use and introduce any germs into the baby's diet. "
One of the vessels shows traces of many types of fat, one of which, according to scientists, may be a remnant of human breast milk. "There is no reason to suppose that women may not have put milk in any of these pots for later use, like today," Dunn says.
Previously, scientists have suggested that these types of ceramics – small hollow vessels with long narrow spouts – are used to feed sick or elderly people. As for why scientists are just now discovering that the vessels were used for infants, Dunn says, "Let's admit it. Sometimes research on women is a little more marginalized than research on what men did in prehistoric times – you know, fight, or hunt, and collect, and all that kind of stuff. So you can't find out so much about women, motherhood and children. "
Halkrow agrees." It was not until the 1970s and 1980s that archaeologists became interested in where women were in the past and began looking at babies and children as a whole. So this is really really the last 15 to 20 years that there has been some kind of explosion from the study of children. "
" Expanding our lens to include babies and children in the past is really important for a number of reasons, "says Halkrow." They make up a large percentage of the past population. And if their health and experience are poor, then obviously "It was detrimental to the function of the community."
"Initially, we continued to find vessels in children's graves, because that would absolutely confirm to us that they were bottles for feeding children," Dunn says. And her team received further approval – albeit with a more anecdotal variety – from a friend's child.
"When we gave the reconstructed [baby] to Noah, he is very intuitive, so it fits perfectly in the baby's hands. He loved it too," Dunn says. "He started sucking on it right away. He was really happy, sitting there playing with him and sucking him for centuries."