Lactase persistence and the early Cultural History of Europe  
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CNRS30% of the scientific and production staff of the French National Museum of Natural History (Paris) have a background in the humanities, making this Museum the only one in Europe with such a highly mixed biological and anthropological approach. The Archaeozoology Laboratory is composed of 19 tenured archaeozoologists (3 of them specialists of stable isotopes), ten PhD / Post-Docs, and nine temporary positions. They are distributed into four working groups: (i) coastal resources, (ii) last hunters first farmers, (iii) historical societies, and (iv) palaeoparasitology. This is the largest staff of archaeozoologists in the world. During the last four years, the group has published 7.8 papers/yr/full time scientist (1.5 ISI indexed journal/yr/full time scientist).

ESR1 The archaeology of early dairying
Jean Denis Vigne, Anne Tresset, Marie Balasse

Information about dairy animal management at the beginning of stock-keeping and of its evolution during the Neolithic will contribute to reconstructing the early history of dairying in Europe. Animal management practices will be reconstructed from prehistoric archaeological data from both age at death & sex of animals using bones and teeth that have accumulated in village middens.
For sheep and goat, based on modern flocks, Payne (Anatolian Studies, 1973, 23, 281; JAS, 1987 14, 609) identified three main management models: meat, milk and wool. Recent technical advances have made it possible to (i) discriminate between teeth from sheep & goats (e.g. Halstead et al., 2002, JAS, 29, 545) (ii) standardize and increase accuracy of age determination (e.g. Helmer et al. 2005, Anthropozoologica, 40, 167). In addition to the milk model of Payne, which is based on the slaughtering of very young males and assumes a true dairying economy (Halstead 1998, Anthropozoologica, 27, 3), another model with several variations exists, in which young are kept alive but shared the females in order to maximise milk production has been identified (Helmer & Vigne 2007 Anthropozoologica, In press). This second (mixed milk-meat model) is also characterised by a special slaughtering of old milk-producing females. We now realize that ovicaprine milk exploitation began in the Mediterranean and Near East in the very early Neolithic (Helmer & Vigne 2007 loc cit.). For sheep and goat, ESR1 will aim to revisit bone assemblages of European Neolithic key sites selected together with ER1 .
For cattle, the release of milk is different (Balasse 2003, Anthropozoologica, 37, 3): with the exception of modern breeds, the calf has to be kept alive in order to provoke the cow to release milk. Therefore, the Payne model cannot be transposed to cattle. However, Tresset (1997; Mém. Mus Préhist d’Ile-de-France, 6, 299) identified an unusual slaughtering peak ca. 7-9 months old which was interpreted as a special Neolithic system of cattle management for milk exploitation, which included killing calves at weaning time (post lactation slaughtering). Using serial isotopic analyses Balasse & Tresset (2002, JAS, 29, 853) confirmed this hypothesis in early Neolithic France. For cattle, ESR1 will aim to:
i) test more profiles with serial analyses of the carbon and oxygen stable isotopes in the enamel bioapatite of the cheek teeth of archaeological calves to test both the post-lactation and the newborn slaughtering systems
ii) determine the sex of 7-9 month-old calves using molecular approaches (collaboration ESR6 , E.-M. Geigl)
iii) revisit bone assemblages of European Neolithic key sites selected together with ER1 in order to get a better idea of the distribution of these systems through time and space.
This project will coordinate data with, ESR4, ESR6, ESR7, ESR8, ESR9, ESR10, ESR11, and aid these projects with sample selection (in concert with ER1)


VigneDr Jean-Denis Vigne has a background in vertebrate paleontology and bioarchaeology and researchers on animal remains, coming from numerous Mediterranean and Near Eastern sites and is particularily interested in Neolithic husbandry techniques, especially on milk exploitation. He is now managing the archaeozoological lab in the Museum and belongs to the ICAZ executive committee, as principal organiser of the 2010 Conference in Paris.

Dr Anne Tresset has a background in cultural archaeology and archaeozoology and has contributed to several programmes about the Neolitisation of western, central and eastern Europe and is recognised as is one of the best specialists of the history of animal domestication in Europe. She is now in charge of the group “Last hunters – first farmers” in the Archaeozoological Laboratory.

Dr Marie Balasse who is in charge of the IRMS facility in the Museum, has a background in cultural archaeology, archaeozoology and stable isotopes. She has developed methodological studies on the mechanism of tooth enamel growth, but also on the Neolithic birth seasonality, herding techniques, and acclimatization of sheep in extreme climatic conditions (Orkney islands).

Joël Ughetto-Monfrain is a chemical engineer devoted to the IRMS facility in the Museum.

Karyne Debue is the osteoarchaeological engineer in charge of the platform of preparation of the samples, of the collections management (including aDNA samples) and of the platform for osteological determinations.


Members of the museum benefit from a library of nearly 500 000 items and the latest equipment for studying areas such as geometric morphometrics, biomolecular systematics, and isotopic platforms. In addition there is a specialized archaeozoological library, preparation labs, and an online database of the archaeozoological data available for France.


1. Balasse M, et al., First evidence for seaweed winter foddering in the Neolithic of Scotland. (2006) Journal of Zoology 270:170;

2. Edwards CJ, et al., A Mitochondrial History of the Aurochs (Bos primigenius primigenius) in Europe. (2007) Proc. Roy. Soc. Ser. B B 274: 1377;

3. Helmer D & Vigne J-D, Was milk a “secondary product” in the Old World Neolithisation process? Its role in the domestication of cattle, sheep and goats. (in press) Anthropozoologica