Ancient Europeans intolerant to lactose for 5,000 years after they adopted agriculture

Ancient Europeans intolerant to lactose for 5,000 years after they adopted agriculture
Credit: University College Dublin

By analysing DNA extracted from the petrous bones of skulls of ancient Europeans, scientists have identified that these peoples remained intolerant to lactose (natural sugar in the milk of mammals) for 5,000 years after they adopted agricultural practices and 4,000 years after the onset of cheese-making among Central European Neolithic farmers.

The findings published online in the scientific journal Nature Communications (21 Oct) also suggest that major technological transitions in Central Europe between the Neolithic, Bronze Age and Iron Age were also associated with major changes in the genetics of these populations.

For the study, the international team of scientists examined nuclear ancient DNA extracted from thirteen individuals from burials from archaeological sites located in the Great Hungarian Plain, an area known to have been at the crossroads of major cultural transformations that shaped European prehistory. The skeletons sampled date from 5,700 BC (Early Neolithic) to 800 BC (Iron Age).

It took several years of experimentation with different bones of varying density and DNA preservation for the scientists to discover that the inner ear region of the petrous bone in the skull, which is the hardest bone and well protected from damage, is ideal for ancient DNA analysis in humans and any other .

According to Professor Ron Pinhasi from the UCD Earth Institute and UCD School of Archaeology, University College Dublin, the joint senior author on the paper, "the high percentage DNA yield from the petrous bones exceeded those from other bones by up to 183-fold. This gave us anywhere between 12% and almost 90% human DNA in our samples compared to somewhere between 0% and 20% obtained from teeth, fingers and rib bones".

University College Dublin, Professor Ron Pinhasi & Trinity College Dublin Professor, Daniel Bradley speak about the high DNA yield from the petrous bones of skulls of ancient Europeans

For the first time, these exceptionally high percentage DNA yields from ancient remains made it possible for scientists to systematically analyse a series of skeletons from the same region and check for known genetic markers including .

"Our findings show progression towards lighter skin pigmentation as hunter and gatherers and non-local farmers intermarried, but surprisingly no presence of increased lactose persistence or tolerance to lactose" adds Professor Pinhasi.

"This means that these ancient Europeans would have had domesticated animals like cows, goats and sheep, but they would not yet have genetically developed a tolerance for drinking large quantities of milk from mammals," he says.

According to Professor Dan Bradley from the Smurfit Institute of Genetics, Trinity College Dublin, co-senior author on the paper, "our results also imply that the great changes in prehistoric technology including the adoption of farming, followed by the first use of the hard metals, bronze and then iron, were each associated with the substantial influx of new people. We can no longer believe these fundamental innovations were simply absorbed by existing populations in a sort of cultural osmosis."

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Central Europeans already digested milk 1,000 years ago, researchers find

Journal information: Nature Communications

Citation: Ancient Europeans intolerant to lactose for 5,000 years after they adopted agriculture (2014, October 21) retrieved 23 October 2019 from
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Oct 21, 2014
Pre-pubescent humans are all lactose tolerant, as are all mammals.
The gene at the center of lactose intolerance is one that actually blueprints a protein that shuts down production of the lactase enzyme at puberty.
The mutation of this gene simply permits humans to continue to produce lactase for metabolizing lactose after puberty, providing adults with one more available food resource.
This would not be an important resource in regions where dairy animals were not an abundant resource to start with.
Yoghurt and cheese are not an issue, as the lactose is removed by the fermentation process before the product is consumed.

Oct 21, 2014
Post pubescent?

Oct 21, 2014
in Africa, the saying was not to drink milk until it was "ripe" i.e. buttermilk.

And the presence of steppe tribes using yoghurt or other fermented milk products suggest that ancestors might have figured a way to get around the problem of lactose intolerance.

Oct 22, 2014
There is no mention of any mutation that supposedly linked skin pigmentation and malaria via hemoglobin S (the sickle cell variant) in the context of natural selection and evolutionary theory.

In my model, that information about mutation-driven cause and effect is missing because all hemoglobin variants are nutrient dependent. They arise via RNA-directed DNA methylation and RNA-mediated cell type differentiation in human populations.

Populations adapted to ecological variation in nutrient uptake via amino acid substitutions that stabilized their organized genomes. The human populations with darker skin pigmentation did not evolve due to mutations that protected them from malaria.

That pseudoscientific nonsense about mutations and natural selection is still touted by evolutionary theorists. They think that people and peppered moths somehow evolved pigmentation due to mutations and natural selection.

See for comparison: http://www.ncbi.n...24693353

Oct 22, 2014
Based on his writings... James Kohl presents an unsupported challenge to modern evolutionary theory and misrepresentations of established scientific terms and others' research.

A series of published works linked RNA-directed DNA methylation and RNA-mediated events to amino acid substitutions and nutrient-dependent pheromone-controlled cell type differentiation in species from yeasts to mammals -- with examples cited in my 2013 review.

"Small intranuclear proteins also participate in generating alternative splicing techniques of pre-mRNA and, by this mechanism, contribute to sexual differentiation in at least two species, Drosophila melanogaster and Caenorhabditis elegans..." http://www.hawaii...ion.html

Andrew Jones (aka anonymous_9001) ignores everything known about cell type differentiation and claims my paper should not have been published because my focus is on 'conditions of life'.

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