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Chemical Analysis of Pottery Demonstrates Prehistoric Origin for High-Altitude Alpine Dairying

Lookup NU author(s): Dr Francesco CarrerORCiD, Dr Oliver Craig



This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (CC BY 4.0).


The European high Alps are internationally renowned for their dairy produce, which are ofhuge cultural and economic significance to the region. Although the recent history of alpinedairying has been well studied, virtually nothing is known regarding the origins of this practice.This is due to poor preservation of high altitude archaeological sites and the ephemeralnature of transhumance economic practices. Archaeologists have suggested that stonestructures that appear around 3,000 years ago are associated with more intense seasonaloccupation of the high Alps and perhaps the establishment of new economic strategies.Here, we report on organic residue analysis of small fragments of pottery sherds that areoccasionally preserved both at these sites and earlier prehistoric rock-shelters. Basedmainly on isotopic criteria, dairy lipids could only be identified on ceramics from the stonestructures, which date to the Iron Age (ca. 3,000–2,500 BP), providing the earliest evidenceof this practice in the high Alps. Dairy production in such a marginal environment implies ahigh degree of risk even by today’s standards. We postulate that this practice was driven bypopulation increase and climate deterioration that put pressure on lowland agropastoralsystems and the establishment of more extensive trade networks, leading to greaterdemand for highly nutritious and transportable dairy products.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Carrer F, Colonese AC, Lucquin A, Petersen Guedes E, Thompson A, Walsh K, Reitmaier T, Craig OE

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: PLoS ONE

Year: 2016

Volume: 11

Issue: 4

Online publication date: 21/04/2016

Acceptance date: 29/02/2016

Date deposited: 12/05/2016

ISSN (electronic): 1932-6203

Publisher: Public Library of Science


DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0151442


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