The population of the Bronze Age skyrocketed thanks to cattle ranching

Livestock and dairy farming were the key to the population boom and early symbols of civilization on the Eurasian steppe during the Bronze Age, according to new research.

A new study by the German Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History reveals that the adoption of ruminant livestock ultimately led to population growth, the establishment of community cemeteries, and the construction of great monuments.

Using proteomic analysis of human dental calculus from sites in the Mongolian Altai, the researchers demonstrate a shift in dairy consumption over the course of the Bronze Age, a historical period from around 3300 B.C. C. to 1200 a. c.

Horses and Gers in Mongolia
Horses and Gers near Lake Khoton (Syrgal) near the Altai Mountains of Mongolia.
Noost Bayarkhuu, University of Science and Technology of China/Zenger

The Altai Mountains are a mountain range in central and eastern Asia, where Russia, China, Mongolia, and Kazakhstan converge.

The study provides interdisciplinary support for the connections between dairy farming and increased social complexity in the eastern steppe.

The Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History announced: “The movement of herders and cattle into the eastern steppe is of great interest to researchers.

“However, few scholars have linked the introduction of herds and horses to the rise of complex societies.”

By tracing the consumption of dairy products among populations in the Altai Mountains of Mongolia, the Jena-based institution’s research group revealed the crucial role of domesticated sheep, goats and cattle in ancient economies.

Sagsai burial from the Tsagaan Asga site
Sagsai burial from the Tsagaan Asga site in the Altai Mountains of Mongolia.
Noost Bayarkhuu, University of Science and Technology of China/Zenger

Dr. Alicia Ventresca Miller is a bioarchaeologist at the Department of Archeology at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History and an author of the study.

She said: “As we push back the dates of cattle introduction, we need to rethink the pace of social change, which can occur on much longer timescales.”

Miller, also an assistant professor of anthropology at the University of Michigan, explained that she and colleagues at the University of Michigan and the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History had extracted proteins from stone samples to identify caseins and whey associated with ruminants. and horse milk.

The results were interpreted in consultation with researchers from the National University of Mongolia and the National Museum of Mongolia, in an effort to clarify how ancient societies changed after the adoption of domesticated cattle.

Miller added: “Dramatic social changes and monumental constructions were driven by a long-term reliance on sheep, goats and cattle.

“This is supported by finds of mostly ruminant bones in large monumental Khirgisuurs in the Altai Mountains, while deposits of horse bones have been identified alongside ruminants in other areas of Mongolia.”

Sheep herder in Mongolia
Coping with another snowstorm, a herder walks sheep and goats on March 14, 2010 in Sergelen, Tuv province of Mongolia.
Paula Bronstein/Getty Images

Tsagaan Turbat, professor of archeology and anthropology at the National University of Mongolia, said: “These new results could enable a shift in our understanding of Bronze Age dynamics.

The Bronze Age is a historical period, from about 3300 BC. C. to 1200 a. C., which was characterized by the use of bronze, in some areas protowriting and other early features of urban civilization.

An ancient civilization is considered to be part of the Bronze Age because it produced bronze by smelting its own copper and alloying it with tin, arsenic, or other metals, or by trading other items for bronze from other production areas.

Bronze was harder and more durable than other metals available at the time, allowing Bronze Age civilizations to gain a technological advantage.

The Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History is based in Jena, Thuringia. It is one of more than 80 research institutions of the Max Planck Society.

This story was provided to Newsweek by Zenger News.

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