ZAGREB, September 7, 2018 – Scientists have found traces of what they believe is the world’s oldest cheese, made 7,200 years ago in what is now Croatia, namely the Dalmatian coast. The discovery was made by an international team and led by researchers at The Pennsylvania State University.
The team says their discovery means humans were making cheese 4,000 years earlier than previously thought. The team stresses that the use of cheese also makes sense at the time. Populations on the Dalmatian Coast were often lactose intolerant, but children at the very least would benefit from eating cheese, a “high calorie, pathogen-safe, and nutrient-rich source of food.”
Describing childhood as “one of the most dangerous periods in pre-industrial human societies,” the team suspect that the presence of dairy products helped them survive. This would have been especially important as populations migrated to colder climates, where agricultural development would prove to be trickier.
Different types of food from this period were associated with different types of pottery. “Cheese production is important enough that people are making new types of kitchenware,” said Sarah B. McClure, an associate professor of anthropology at Penn State and lead author of the new study.
The team of researchers from across the US, the UK, and Croatia analysed ceramic fragments excavated from two Neolithic sites on the Dalmatian Coast for indications of the food items they once contained.
Archaeological data shows people have been growing crops and raising livestock in the region for roughly 8,000 years. Key to understanding the cultural shifts during this time are the bits of pottery they left behind. Not only do the ceramic pieces hold onto traces of material it came into contact with, their structure can say a lot about influences of aesthetics and design.
Their research was published in PLOS ONE.