Dairying enabled Early Bronze Age Yamnaya steppe expansions

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During the Early Bronze Age, populations of the western Eurasian steppe expanded across an immense area of northern Eurasia. Combined archaeological and genetic evidence supports widespread Early Bronze Age population movements out of the Pontic–Caspian steppe that resulted in gene flow across vast distances, linking populations of Yamnaya pastoralists in Scandinavia with pastoral populations (known as the Afanasievo) far to the east in the Altai Mountains1,2 and Mongolia3. Although some models hold that this expansion was the outcome of a newly mobile pastoral economy characterized by horse traction, bulk wagon transport4,5,6 and regular dietary dependence on meat and milk5, hard evidence for these economic features has not been found. Here we draw on proteomic analysis of dental calculus from individuals from the western Eurasian steppe to demonstrate a major transition in dairying at the start of the Bronze Age. The rapid onset of ubiquitous dairying at a point in time when steppe populations are known to have begun dispersing offers critical insight into a key catalyst of steppe mobility. The identification of horse milk proteins also indicates horse domestication by the Early Bronze Age, which provides support for its role in steppe dispersals. Our results point to a potential epicentre for horse domestication in the Pontic–Caspian steppe by the third millennium BC, and offer strong support for the notion that the novel exploitation of secondary animal products was a key driver of the expansions of Eurasian steppe pastoralists by the Early Bronze Age.


Yamnaya folks were consuming horse milk.

Our Bronze Age samples come from 35 individuals from 20 sites in the Volga–Ural steppes that can be divided into two chronological groups: the Early Bronze Age (about 3300 to 2500 BC) era of Yamnaya-culture mobile pastoralism29,30; and the Middle–Late Bronze Age transition (about 2500–1700 BC), when chariots, fortified settlements and new western-derived influence genetic ancestries appeared with the Sintashta culture31. The cemetery sites and the number of individuals (in parentheses) from the Early Bronze Age are: Krasikovskyi 1 (2) Krasnokholm 3 (1), Krivyanskiy 9 (2), Kutuluk 1 (2), Leshchevskoe 1 (1), Lopatino 1 (1), Mustayevo 5 (2), Nizhnaya Pavlovka (1), Panitskoe (1), Podlesnoe (1), Pyatiletka (1) and Trudovoy (1); and, from the Middle–Late Bronze Age transition, Bolshekaraganskyi (1), Kalinovsky 1 (2), Kamennyi Ambar 5 (3), Krasikovskyi I (1), Krivyanskiy 9 (3), Lopatino 1 and Lopatino 2 (2), Potapovka 1 (1), Shumayevo 2 (1) and Utevka 6 (5) (Supplementary Fig. 1b, c). Archaeological and stable isotope findings6,22 indicate that the diet of Early Bronze Age Yamnaya groups was focused on herd animals, specifically cattle, sheep and goat. Horse remains also appear in quantity on a few steppe archaeological sites, but the status of Early Bronze Age horses—whether domesticated or hunted—has remained unclear32,33. The Middle–Late Bronze Age transition saw a shift to greater horse exploitation and chariot use, within the context of an ongoing dietary focus on domesticated livestock.
Of the 56 ancient human dental calculus samples we tested, 55 were successfully extracted and produced identifiable protein data. Of these 55, 48 (87%) were determined to have strong signals for preservation through an assessment of proteins commonly found within the oral cavity; detailed information on this assessment is provided in Methods, Supplementary Table 3.

Overall, our results point to a clear and marked shift in milk consumption patterns between the Eneolithic and Early Bronze Age in the Pontic–Caspian Steppe. The majority of Eneolithic individuals (10 out of 11 (92%)) in our assemblage lack any evidence for milk consumption, whereas the overwhelming majority of Early Bronze Age individuals (15 out of 16 (94%)) contain ample proteomic evidence for dairy consumption in their calculus. Although a single individual at Eneolithic Khvalynsk with somewhat equivocal evidence for the consumption of dairy from cattle may indicate small-scale dairy use, the reliability of this single identification is questionable. Our findings suggest that regular dairy consumption in the Pontic–Caspian Steppe began only at the time of the Eneolithic-to-Early Bronze Age transition. Although neighbouring Eneolithic farming populations in Europe appear to have been dairying39, those living across the steppe frontier did not adopt milking practices, which suggests the presence of a cultural frontier. The proteomic data are in broad agreement with findings from lipid analyses in the Ukraine (Supplementary Information section 2, Supplementary Table 2). They also agree with stable isotope analysis of individuals from Eneolithic-to-Bronze-Age Samara showing a corresponding shift from a heavy reliance on fish, deer and other riverine forest (C3) resources to a greater reliance on terrestrial and grassland (C3 and C4) animal products22,40.
the title seems somewhat misleading
afaik the yamnaya was eneolithic
the later bronze age is sintashta, not yamnaya
Yes, well, at some point the "cultural" barrier to dairying was crossed.

I wonder if it was only crossed when they started admixing with women from the farming communities where it was regularly practiced.

Did they test for the derived allele for lactase persistence? While they were still on the steppe the ancient dna shows they didn't possess it. Did they get it from these farmers, or did all of these people still consume the dairy in the less lactose dense form of cheese?
Sloppy paper with sloppy conclusions. I expect as much from a Willerslev paper, but I'm surprised by Allentoft.

His other major paper was so much better. Maybe it should have read Lazaridis et al; politics, politics.

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