Milk and molecules: secrets from prehistoric pottery

Jessica Smyth, Richard P Evershed

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference Contribution (Conference Proceeding)


The Neolithic period is synonymous with a major step in human development – the domestication of plants and animals and the beginning of farming. In Europe, the shift to agriculture starts around 7000 cal BC, spreading across the continent over several thousand years. The island of Ireland lies geographically and chronologically at the end of this trajectory, in the centuries around 4000 cal BC.
As in many parts of Europe, pottery appears in Ireland at the same time as farming, and examining the contents of pottery vessels can provide great insight into the lifestyles of early farming communities. A recently completed research project based at the Organic Geochemistry Unit, University of Bristol, saw the systematic analysis of ancient organic residues in nearly 500 pots from fifteen Irish Neolithic sites (c. 4000 – 2500 cal BC). Eight of these fifteen sites were recently excavated along Irish road schemes.
Molecular and stable isotope analyses undertaken on the fat residues preserved in these pots have firmly established that dairying was taking place in early Neolithic Ireland. Indeed, current evidence indicates that by the time farming arrives at the western edge of Europe, i.e. the islands of Britain and Ireland, dairying is a key—perhaps even the primary— component of farming practice.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationFragments of Lives Past
Subtitle of host publicationarchaeological objects from Irish road schemes
Place of PublicationDublin
PublisherNational Roads Authority
Number of pages13
ISBN (Print)9780957438088
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2014


Dive into the research topics of 'Milk and molecules: secrets from prehistoric pottery'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this