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Cow milk exploitation and calf weaning in the Early Neolithic Balkans: insights from intra-tooth variations in nitrogen isotope ratios

Živaljević, Ivana; Dimitrijević, Vesna; Stefanović, Sofja; Balasse, Marie

Human interdependence with domestic cattle (Bos taurus) in the North-Central Balkans can be traced to the origins of animal husbandry in the region, i.e. to the Early Neolithic (c. 6000-5400 cal. BC). The prevalence of cattle remains in the archaeozoological record and the ubiquity of bovid imagery are testimonies to their prominent role in the economic and symbolic sphere, as well as in their day-to-day interactions with humans. Furthermore, recent lipid analyses of organic residues from Early Neolithic pottery vessels from a number of Balkan sites (Ethier et al. 2017) indicate that dairying was not only present from the start, but also fairly widespread. However, cow milk exploitation would not have been straightforward, but heavily dependent on the length of lactation, the presence/absence of suckling calves, the amount left for human consumption and consequently on the calf weaning pattern. In this paper, following Balasse & Tresset (2002), we examine the weaning patterns in several individuals from Early Neolithic sites (Starčevo-Grad, Topole-Bač, Magareći mlin) by looking into the intra-tooth (M1, M2) variation in nitrogen isotope (δ15N) ratios of dentine collagen. Observed trophic changes related to different dietary stages (in utero, suckling and weaning) are cross-referenced with herd age structures, in order to make inferences about slaughter patterns. An emphasis on animal life-histories, by means of stable isotope analyses and ageing, provide new insights into the nature of early cattle husbandry, milk availability and sharing between humans and calves, as well as the management of animals in these processes.

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