Lactase persistence and the early Cultural History of Europe  
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Kings ManorBioArCh was founded in 2003 as a joint venture between the Departments of Biology, Archaeology and Chemistry at the University of York, reflecting shared research interests in those Departments. Led by Prof. Collins, BioArCh is arguably the world's leading archaeological protein research group. It has developed, the concept of thermal age and prediction of bone, protein and DNA survival (Nature, 2002; Science, 2007); a new approach to assess the extent of protein decomposition using chiral chemistry, resulting in a unique facility for amino acid geochronology (www.neaar.co.uk) contributing to the dating of the earliest hominins in NW Europe (Nature, 2005) and investigation of 0.5 Ma forests under the Greenland ice cap (Science, 2007); pioneered archaeological proteomics with first fossil and Neanderthal sequences (PNAS 2005) plus recent re-appraisal of 'dinosaur' collagen (Science in press).

Two projects are running at York:-
ER1 Dairying, the archaeological context
ESR8 Shotgun proteomics of pottery and bone

ER1 Dairying, the archaeological context
O'Connor / Edmonds

The postdoctoral researcher's primary objective will be to ensure that the archaeological sites chosen provide adequate coverage to ensure achievement of the overall project objectives. ER1 will coordinate the selection of archaeological sites and materials for analysis by all groups working on ancient materials (ESR1, ESR2 , ESR4, ESR6, ESR7, ESR8 , ESR9 , ESR10, ESR11 , ESR13). They will liase with archaeologists and osteologists on site selection from the rich resource present in Europe, and will compile a list of ceramic, animal bone and human bone already held and/or analysed by members of LeCHE (taken on ER2). ER1 will liaise with the relevant research teams to consider specific archaeological sites and bone and artefact assemblages with the goal of placing dairying in its accurate cultural context and to ensure complete articulation between archaeological questions and analytical procedures. This will ensure that the data generated by LeCHE will address finer-scale archaeological issues. The synthesis and liaison role of ER1 is critical to the project, to ensure that the many different lines of analytical work are directed towards the key archaeological questions. It is therefore essential that this post is taken by an experienced researcher, ER.

The key archaeological questions can be categorized into three groups:
The provision of dairy products: Which species of animal were exploited for dairy products, and which species were preferred in different regions and at different times in the Neolithic? What was the scale and intensity of production? Was dairy production specialised or part of a multi-resource husbandry system? Can it be shown whether the dairy products prepared and consumed by a population were produced locally or traded/exchanged over distance? What evidence is there for storage of dairy produce? What role did dairying have in terms of the wider economy?
 The preparation of dairy products: Which artefacts are associated with the preparation of dairy products? Were do we find ceramic vessels dedicated to preparing dairy products? Were the patterns of use site-specific or consistent across regions? How were the artefacts were used (e.g. for processing specific dairy foods, cheeses, butter etc)? In what contexts were they deposited? Were artefacts used for processing dairy products associated with particular activities (economic, ceremonial) or for every day use? What else were ceramic vessels being used for?
 The consumption of dairy products: Was the consumption of dairy foods open to all, or was consumption restricted to certain groups (i.e. sex, age, status)? Do differences in dairy consumption correlate with other parameters such as human burial practice and spatial patterning in refuse disposal? How did dairy foods contribute to the overall diet? Which artefacts are associated with the consumption of dairy foods? What is the wider archaeological context for dairy consumption?

ESR8 Shotgun proteomics of pottery and bone
Collins and Craig

Sexing Animal teeth and speciating bone fragments– The main objective will be discrimination of sex-related sequence differences in the tyrosine-rich amelogenin peptide recovered in cattle enamel by protein mass spectrometry. If teeth can be sexed, then combined with age estimates based on teeth eruption, mortality profiles can produced for domestic animals, identified and studied by ESR1 and ESR2 . A further objective will be to speciate collagen in bone fragments (e.g. sheep vs goat) to providing a resource for destructive analysis by ESR4, ESR6 and ESR10.
Pottery – Although proteins survive less well inon pottery than lipids they are able to discriminate to species level and beyond and therefore merit investigation. Species specific milk proteins (caseins) have been recovered from a range of Bronze Age and Copper Age ceramics (Craig et al., 2000, Nature; 2004, EJA), and variants upon these have been used to in Quantitative Trait Loci Mapping. In particular, clines in casein haplotypes frequencies between Northern and Southern cattle breeds are highly correlated with the distribution of lactose tolerance in humans. The higher overall diversity in cattle milk proteins is particularly marked in North-central Europe and is not mirrored by other cattle markers, (e.g. microsatellites & mtDNA). These findings may imply that cattle were specifically selected for qualities relating to milk yield and/or milk protein characteristics in this region. Ceramics from this region, dating from 4,000 – 3,000 cal BC, will be examined for signs of remnant protein residues and targeted for casein characterisation using a shotgun proteomics approach. Samples will be chosen from archaeological contexts with spectacular organic preservation (including shell middens, submerged sites and lake deposits) to enhance the possibility of protein survival and those in which milk lipids have already been identified (ESR7). This aspect of the project will be guided by ER1 and particularly address issues identified by ESR2 . The will link principally to ESR7 and ESR9 and report data to ESR12 and ESR2.  


Prof. Matthew Collins is interested in the study of proteins in the archaeological record. He holds the (visiting) Chair in Biomolecular Archaeology at the Vrije Universiteit, Amsterdam He is coordinator of the GeneTime initiative, which is an International Marie Curie Training Site in Ancient Biomolecules.

Prof. Terry O’Connor’s (Archaeology) research is mostly in the fields of vertebrate zooarchaeology and human palaeoecology, in particular the taphonomy and formation of the archaeological record, which will be essential for sample quality control. He is an Associate Editor of the International Journal of Osteoarchaeology. He is the coordinator of Palaeo, which is a training site in Human Paleo-ecology and Evolution.

Prof. Jane Thomas Oates (Chemistry) is RSC/EPSRC Chair in Analytical Science at York, where her group is carrying out a programme of collaborative research centred on the development of mass spectrometric approaches for proteomics.

Prof. Mark Edmonds (Archaeology) Mark’s research over the past decade or so has developed on several fronts; in work on prehistory, on landscape and memory and on the social dimensions of technology, primarily focussed upon the Neolithic and Bronze Age of Britain and North-Western Europe. 

Dr Oliver Craig (BioArch, Archaeology) specialises in biomolecular archaeology.  His research has focused on the analysis of materials from key prehistoric sites in Central and Eastern Europe and along the North East Atlantic and Baltic coastlines. 

Dr. Kirsty Penkman (BioArch) is a Lecturer in Analytical Chemistry. She is developing protein degradation as a means of dating old organic materials for which she has recently been awarded the Lewis Penny medal.


BioArch is a unique interdepartmental initiative with 210 m2 preparative and analytical laboratory space exclusively for the study of ancient biomolecules. The labs house GC/MS/MS, LC-MS/MS, HPLC, amino acid analysis, image analysis, sample preparation and wet chemical and sediment labs. BioArch facilities are part of the BioScience complex and are situated adjacent to the groundbreaking €7.5M, 2000 m2 Technology Facility which provides a world-class centre of science and technology for development of, training in, and service provision of key biological and biomolecular technologies.