Neanderthal kids ran all over the place.
This fall researchers from Europe report new evidence that spouted ceramic vessels made in Europe about 7,000 years ago were used to feed infants . These vessels have been found in many locations, and sometimes have zoomorphic shapes. They have been interpreted as having been used by people to suck liquid from the stem, presumably, animal product in some cases (milk? blood? soup?)
The new research examined some of these vessels and found chemical residues that indicate the presence of animal milk. The researchers suggest that these vessels were used to feed babies or young children. They note that several graves have been documented containing a young child with a stemmed vessel closely associated.
If so, this suggests that the milk of domestic animals was an important foodstuff for these people. They also argue that changes to weaning by augmenting children’s diets with animal milk may have contributed to the population growth observed at that time . On the other hand, they point out that different animal milks have different nutritional and health implications, and unpasteurized milk risks infection and disease.
This is certainly an interesting and suggestive combination of evidence (child burials, evidence of milk consumption, use of domestic ruminants). Of course, it is possible that these vessels were used by people of all ages, or by only some infants some of the time (e.g., when mother’s milk was not available).
In any case, it is certainly an indication that Neolithic people were every bit as concerned and inventive about child rearing as we are. How far back does this idea go? I note that there are lots of ways to do this kind of feeding with milk (or any kind of slurry), including a tube of hide or fiber that would not be likely to be well preserved. So, the idea could have been around for a long time before people made ceramic vessels to do it.
Did Neaderthals bottle feed, too?
We also can speculate on possible evolution of the human digestive system in parallel with animal husbandry. If some Neolithic people fed young children milk of domestic animals, there would have been selective advantage for those children who could tolerate and thrive on these animals, and dire disadvantage for others. If so, then observations of, say, genetic tolerance for cows milk might reflect, at least in part, the results of long past cultural practices about feeding children.
- Helen Briggs, Prehistoric babies fed animal milk in bottles, in BBC News – Science & Environment 2019. https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-49813039
- J. Dunne, K. Rebay-Salisbury, R. B. Salisbury, A. Frisch, C. Walton-Doyle, and R. P. Evershed, Milk of ruminants in ceramic baby bottles from prehistoric child graves. Nature, 2019/09/25 2019. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41586-019-1572-x
- Siân E. Halcrow, Early Europeans bottle-fed babies with animal milk, in Nature – News and Views. 2019. https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-019-02805-z