The question of when -and how- humans first started making cheese has confounded archaeologists. Cheese-making was a big step for civilization, as it allowed lactose-intolerant adults to consume a dairy product, and it was a way to preserve nutritious milk for much longer than otherwise possible. We still don't have the answers, but another clue in the history of cheese has been discovered. According to a new paper in the journal Nature, evidence of cheese-making can be found in 7,000-year-old clay pots.
Melanie Salque is the paper's lead author and a chemist at Bristol University in England. She says some of the first clues of Neolithic cheese-making were a bunch of strange clay vessels unearthed by archaeologists in the 1970s in Northern Europe. "They were very peculiar because they had very small holes in them," says Salque.
Peter Bogucki, a Princeton archaeologist who dug up these pots, says they baffled him and his colleagues. Some thought the sieves might have been used to hold hot coals, or strain honey, or prepare beer. But Bogucki wondered if maybe they had something to do with cheese.
For decades there was no way to prove his pots were ancient cheese strainers. Now new techniques have finally allowed researchers to analyze residue that had seeped into the clay. And they found that its chemical signature matched cow's milk.