Dairying enabled the Yamnaya, Early Bronze Age pastoralists, to migrate long distances across the Eurasian steppe, researchers reported in a Nature article published September 15.

UMMAA curator Alicia Ventresca Miller, co-author on the article, with lead author Shevan Wilkin and other colleagues, explained how their research on ancient proteins found in dental calculus led them to conclude that a major increase in dairying coincided with massive migrations across the steppe.

Wilkin et al. 2021 used paleoproteomic analysis of dental calculus on 56 individuals from the Eurasian steppe spanning the Neolithic to the Bronze Age to demonstrate a major transition in dairying at the start of the Bronze Age.

The findings also further our understanding of horse domestication in the area and the role horses played in the migration of Bronze Age pastoralists.

Read the full article (open access) here.

Read a summary of the findings on the Max Planck Institute website.

Read about the study in Science News.

Fun fact:
Paleoproteomics is the study of ancient proteins. In this case, it's dietary proteins that are encased in dental calculus. Why dental calculus? Dental calculus (tartar) is formed by the mineralization of dental plaque, which occurs naturally due to the presence of calcium and phosphate ions in our saliva. Therefore, dental calculus can be a key indicator of food items that are actually consumed (as opposed to prepared); it accumulates on tooth surfaces during a lifetime and preserves biomolecules in the mineralization process. These biomolecules can range from the host's microbiota to inhaled micro debris and food particles (Hendy et al. 2018).


Caption: Dental calculus removed from the teeth of this individual showed evidence of dairy consumption by the early Bronze Age pastoralist group the Yamnaya about 5,000 years ago. Photo by Egor Kitov/Samara Valley Project/Max Planck Society