A new study is out this week highlighting ancient Europeans and their adaption to dairy products. We’ve known that as early humans shifted from hunting/gathering to agriculture, genes shifted along side it. But, researchers have found that becoming lactose tolerant took a bit longer than expected for some people.

Researchers studied the genes of 13 people who lived on the Great Hungarian Plain in a 5,000 year period leading up to 800 B.C.

The study looked at skin pigmentation along with lactose tolerance. It was the lactose tolerance finds of the study that surprised researchers the most.

“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” says Professor Ron Pinhasi, senior author on the paper.

Why is this surprising? It means for thousands of years, these ancient Europeans domesticated various animals including cows and goats, but were unable to tolerate large amounts of milk from them. It would take 5,000 years before their genes caught up.

Ok, I know what you’re thinking. Who cares about lactose tolerance in ancient Europeans? Professor Dan Bradley of the Smurfit Institute of Genetics, Trinty College Dublin, touches on how their understanding of technology adoption (including farming) in ancient times has changed with the study.

“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,” Bradley said.


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