By Peter Lloyd for MailOnline
Published: 17:43 BST, 10 September 2019 | Updated: 17:49 BST, 10 September 2019
The earliest direct evidence of milk consumption has been found in the teeth of prehistoric British farmers.
Experts at the University of York made the discovery after identifying a milk protein called beta lactoglobulin in the mineralised dental plaque of seven people who lived in the Neolithic period, roughly 6,000 years-ago.
It's considered the world's earliest identification of the milk whey protein, often referred to as BLG, according to scientists behind the study.
The remains tested come from three different Neolithic sites - Hambledon Hill and Hazleton North in the south of England, and Banbury Lane in the East Midlands.
Researchers have found the earliest direct evidence of milk consumption anywhere in the world in the teeth of prehistoric British farmers from the Midlands and the south
During excavations of ancient pottery, researchers found residues of a feta-like cheese on the remains of rhyton drinking horns and sieves dating back to 5300BC.
Access to milk and cheese has been linked to the spread of agriculture across Europe around 9,000 years ago.
The two villages, Pokrovnik and Danilo Bitinj, were occupied between 6000 and 4800BCE and have several types of pottery across that period.
The residents of these villages appear to have used specific pottery types for the production of different foods, with cheese residue being most common on rhyta and sieves.
According to the latest findings, cheese was established in the Mediterranean 7,200 years ago.
Fermented dairy products were easier for Neolithic humans to store and were relatively low in lactose content.
It would have been an important source of nutrition for all ages in early farming populations.
The authors thus suggest that cheese production and associated ceramic technology were key factors aiding the expansion of early farmers into northern and central Europe.
Individuals from all three sites showed the presence of milk proteins from cows, sheep or goats, suggesting people were exploiting multiple species for dairy products.
Dental plaque can offer unique insights into the diets of ancient people because dietary proteins are entrapped within it when it is mineralised by components of saliva to form tartar or ‘dental calculus’, the researchers say.
Lead author of the study, Dr Sophy Charlton, from the Department of Archaeology at the University of York, said: 'The fact that we found this protein in the dental calculus of individuals from three different Neolithic sites may suggest that dairy consumption was a widespread dietary practice in the past.
'It would be a fascinating