Ancient sippy cup may hold clues about agriculture’s spread in Europe

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A recent study found that prehistoric babies drank milk from ceramic sippy cups, including some with cute animal motifs. Lest you be overwhelmed by the cuteness, there’s a heartbreaking side to that discovery: Bronze and Iron Age parents buried their dead infants with their clay sippy cups.

A team of archaeologists found microscopic traces of livestock milk in three of the containers: two from Iron Age graves in Germany dating between 800 and 450 BCE, and a broken one from a much earlier Bronze Age grave nearby. The results suggest that feeding babies milk from livestock may have helped early European farming populations grow and expand.Not kidding around

Archaeologists have reconstructed surprising details of ancient people’s lives, but they still know relatively little about how infants and children in the ancient past lived. “Infants and children were mainly ignored in archaeology until about 20 years ago,” anthropologist Sian Halcrow of the University of Otago, who was not involved in the study, told Ars Technica. “Research projects that are interested in children are starting to re-examine previous assumptions about activities and objects in archaeology—some items that were thought to be ritualistic are in fact child toys.”

That may sound like child’s play—or at least like a really esoteric research interest. But if we want to understand the growth and expansion of ancient populations, we need to understand how (and when) ancient people fed and weaned their babies.

In Southeastern Europe, starting around 7000 BCE, people began farming and raising livestock after millennia of hunting and gathering. Archaeologists studying ancient human remains noticed that around the same time, populations in early farming cultures started to grow. Somehow, the shift to farming triggered a prehistoric baby boom, and some archaeologists think livestock milk may have been the key.

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