From the mouths of babes: bottles that weaned prehistoric infants

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A baby is shown feeding from a reconstructed infant feeding vessel of the type investigated in research detailing prehistoric ceramic vessels that functioned as baby bottles in this image released on September 25, 2019. (Helena Seidl da Fonseca/Handout via REUTERS)
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Late Bronze Age feeding vessels from Vosendorf, Austria, are seen in this image released on September 25, 2019. (Enver-Hirsch/Wien Museum/Handout via REUTERS)
Updated 26 September 2019

From the mouths of babes: bottles that weaned prehistoric infants

  • Evidence found of prehistoric ancestors in Europe weaned their infants much the way we do now
  • They used specialized baby bottles to feed them animal milk

TOKYO: Archaeologists have uncovered the first evidence that our prehistoric ancestors in Europe weaned their infants much the way we do now, using specialized baby bottles to feed them animal milk.
The discovery casts rare light on childhood and child-rearing in ancient humans — an area that experts say has long been overlooked.
“This is the first direct evidence for what babies and infants were eating and drinking in prehistory,” Julie Dunne, the study’s lead author and a biomolecular archaeologist at the University of Bristol, told AFP.
The research, published Thursday in the journal Nature, focuses on three bowls found in children’s graves in Iron and Bronze Age burial grounds in modern-day Bavaria.
Two came from a cemetery complex dating to between 800 and 450 BC, and a third from a site dating between 1200 and 800 BC.
The bowls had narrow spouts and in some cases were shaped to look like animals, details that led archaeologists to suspect they were used as bottles to feed children.
To test the theory they extracted samples from inside the vessels and carried out careful chemical analysis.
They found that two of the bowls appeared to have contained milk from ruminants like cows and the third had traces of non-ruminant animal milk, possibly from a pig or human.
That information, paired with the location of the bowls inside the graves of children, led the researchers to conclude that the vessels were used as bottles to wean infants.
Other, older artefacts believed to be baby bottles have been found by archaeologists, but without clues to confirm purpose they served.
“It isn’t until the Bronze and Iron Age that we find them in child graves, and this is crucial as it allows us to confirm that they are in fact used to feed babies and infants,” said Dunne.
They offer “a rare glimpse into the ways that prehistoric families were attempting to deal with the challenges of infant nutrition and weaning at this inherently risky phase of the human lifecycle,” the study says.

Evolving practice
How our ancient ancestors practiced weaning — moving a child from breast milk to other foods — could help explain more about prehistoric child-rearing but also the development of human populations.
Some experts theorize, for example, that humans began weaning their infants earlier in life after they moved away from a hunter-gatherer lifestyle and settled into farming life, with access to crops and animal milk.
And mothers who stopped breastfeeding early would have returned to post-natal fertility faster, which may have helped fuel a key population explosion called the “Neolithic demographic transition.”
Conversely however, weaning infants on animal milk may also have brought new risks.
Breast milk provides young children with complete nutrition in early life, while animal milk does not.
And unpasteurized milk also poses a risk of bacteria and infection that could have increased childhood mortality, the study notes.
Further research looking at the remains of prehistoric populations could shed light on whether animal milk caused a spike in infant mortality.
Dunne said she hoped to expand the research technique of sampling residue from ancient bowls to better understand how other early humans fed their infants.
“Similar vessels, although rare, do appear in other prehistoric cultures, such as Rome and ancient Greece,” she said.
“Ideally we’d like to carry out a large geographic study and investigate whether they served the same purpose.”
And for all the scientific insight the artifacts offer, Dunne said they should also be valued for the way connect us to our ancestors.
“They are almost toys as well as baby bottles and surely would have made the infants laugh,” she said.
“I think this shows us the love and care these prehistoric people had for their babies and gives us a very real connection to people in the past.”


In the deserts of Dubai, salmon farming thrives

Updated 30 min 14 sec ago

In the deserts of Dubai, salmon farming thrives

  • The farming of salmon in the desert is “something that no one could have imagined,” said Bader bin Mubarak
  • Fish Farm produces 10,000 to 15,000 kilos of salmon every month

DUBAI: From a control room in the middle of Dubai’s desert, Norway’s sunrises and sunsets and the cool currents of the Atlantic are recreated for the benefit of thousands of salmon raised in tanks despite searing conditions outside.
Dubai is no stranger to ambitious projects, with a no-limits approach that has seen a palm-shaped island built off its coast, and a full-scale ski slope created inside a shopping mall.
But the farming of salmon in the desert is “something that no one could have imagined,” said Bader bin Mubarak, chief executive of Fish Farm. “This is exactly what we’re doing in Dubai.”
Inside the facility, waters flow and temperatures fluctuate to create the most desirable conditions for the salmon living in four vast tanks.
“We provide for them a sunrise, sunset, tide, a strong current or a simple river current — and we have deep waters and shallow waters,” Mubarak told AFP.
Even for a country known for its extravagant ventures, building Fish Farm, located along the southern border of the emirate, was a challenging endeavour.
Salmon usually live in cold waters such as those in and off Iceland, Norway, Scotland and Alaska — which is why the farming of Atlantic salmon in a country where temperatures can reach up to 45C (113 degrees F) is a stretch to say the least.
“Creating the (right) environment for the salmon was the hardest thing we faced,” Mubarak told AFP.
“But we came up with the idea of dark water that resembles deep water, a strong current like the ocean with the same salinity and temperature of the Atlantic.”
Fish Farm bought some 40,000 fingerlings — or juvenile fish — from a hatchery in Scotland and thousands more eggs from Iceland to raise in open tanks in Dubai’s southern district of Jebel Ali.
Salmon are born in freshwater but live in salt water for much of their lives before returning to freshwater to spawn.
At their home in the United Arab Emirates, the tanks are filled with sea water that is cleaned and filtered.
Fish Farm produces 10,000 to 15,000 kilos of salmon every month.
It was established in 2013 with the support of Dubai’s Crown Prince Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum, to farm salmon and other fish including Japanese amberjack, which is used to prepare sushi.
Mubarak said that because of the technical challenge, salmon-raising remains the “greatest production” of the farm, which supplies to Dubai and the rest of the United Arab Emirates, where the population includes millions of expatriates.
“The UAE imports around 92 percent of its fish from abroad, and the goal today is to be able to fulfil (that demand) for imports internally, so that we have food security,” Mubarak said.
“In case there is an interruption, cyclone or floods, the UAE will be able to supply itself. This is the main objective.”
Another goal is to be environmentally friendly and, in a move also motivated by the high cost of electricity, Fish Farm has plans to go solar-powered.
The ecological pros and cons of farming fish on land, compared to raising them in rivers and seas, are hotly debated, as is the alternative of harvesting wild fish.
“There are animal welfare concerns about keeping fish whose natural behavior is to swim freely in seas and rivers in closed tanks,” said Jessica Sinclair Taylor, from Feedback Global, a London-based environmental group.
“There are also concerns about the energy requirements and therefore carbon emissions.”
But she said that on the plus side, land-based farming prevents water pollution in lakes or seas where salmon farms are sometimes sited, and where waste and run-off can damage marine ecosystems.
According to the Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the UAE imported 2.3 billion dirhams ($630 million, 570 million euros) of fish products, crustaceans and molluscs in 2017 and exported 280 million dirhams’ worth.
Fish Farm, the UAE’s only fish farm, hopes to meet at least 50 percent of the country’s needs within two years, said Mubarak.
In April, Fish Farm began selling its products in supermarkets. Despite its decidedly unnatural origins, the salmon is marked “100 percent organic” because of the fish feed and the absence of antibiotics in a closed environment.
“It is (more expensive), but I also think about the quality — I’ve tried different salmon before and this is less greasy and my family prefers this one,” said Katja, a German residing in Dubai.
She said that UAE is “making really great efforts to produce not only fish but vegetables and other foods locally, and I think I should really support that.”

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