Molecular analysis of lipid residues by researchers has revealed that the Indus Civilisations of South Asia were engaging in dairy product processing as far back as 2500 BCE.
When you consider the origins of dairy, Pakistan and India might not be top of your list. However, according to new research published in the journal Nature Scientific Reports, the Indus Valley Civilisation was in fact the earliest known producer of dairy products.
A fascinating new paper reveals that by analysing absorbed lipid residues from fifty-nine ceramic sherds recovered from an agro-pastoral settlement occupied during the peak of the Indus period, scientists were able to establish what is believed to be the earliest direct evidence of dairy product processing from cattle and possibly from water-buffalo.
While there has been past evidence of civilisations exploiting animal products without the need for slaughter, other assumptions on dairy consumption have been based on mortality patterns and artifactual remains. However, this new analysis of absorbed lipid residues in unglazed ceramic vessels is able to provide ‘direct evidence’ of dairy product processing. It’s the same technique that has been successfully applied when identifying sources of organic materials in wall paintings and deposits from ancient settlements.
According to Kalyan Sekhar Chakraborty, one of the authors of the report, dairy production was likely to have been one of the very reasons that the Indus Valley Civilisation was able to build some of the largest cities in the ancient world, with the kind of food surplus required for trade.
Analysis on pottery recovered from Kotada Bhadli, ‘a small site in the present-day Indian state of Gujarat’, reveals that dairy fats were not only present, but relatively common.
“We found that dairy was an integral part of their diet at a site that dates to about 2500 BCE,” explains Chakraborty on archaeology.wiki.