From the mouths of babes: bottles that weaned prehistoric infants

1 / 2
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)
2 / 2
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.”


Japan spacecraft starts yearlong journey home from asteroid

Updated 13 November 2019

Japan spacecraft starts yearlong journey home from asteroid

  • The spacecraft will travel 180 million miles on its journey back to Earth
  • It will bring back soil samples that provide clues to life in space

TOKYO: Japan’s Hayabusa2 spacecraft departed from a distant asteroid on Wednesday, starting its yearlong journey home after successfully completing its mission to bring back soil samples and data that could provide clues to the origins of the solar system, the country’s space agency said.
The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency said the spacecraft left its orbit around the asteroid Ryugu, about 300 million kilometers (180 million miles) from Earth.
Hayabusa2 on Wednesday captured and transmitted to Earth one of its final images of Ryugu, or “Dragon Palace,” named after a sea-bottom castle in a Japanese folk tale, as it slowly began moving away from its temporary home, JAXA said. Hayabusa2 will continue its “farewell filming” of the asteroid for a few more days.
Then Hayabusa2 will adjust its position on around Nov. 18 after retreating 65 kilometers (40 miles) from the asteroid and out of its the gravitational pull. It will then receive a signal from JAXA to ignite a main engine in early December en route to the Earth’s vicinity.
Hayabusa2 made touchdowns on the asteroid twice, despite difficulties caused by Ryugu’s extremely rocky surface, and successfully collected data and samples during its 1½-year mission since arriving there in June 2018.
In the first touchdown in February, it collected surface dust samples. In July, it collected underground samples for the first time in space history after landing in a crater it had earlier created by blasting the asteroid surface.
Hayabusa2 is expected to return to Earth in late 2020 and drop a capsule containing the precious samples in the Australian desert.
It took the spacecraft 3½ years to arrive at the asteroid, but the journey home is much shorter thanks to the current locations of Ryugu and Earth.
JAXA scientists believe the underground samples contain valuable data unaffected by space radiation and other environmental factors that could tell more about the origin of the solar system 4.6 billion years ago.
Asteroids, which orbit the sun but are much smaller than planets, are among the oldest objects in the solar system and may help explain how Earth evolved. Hayabusa2 scientists also said they believe the samples contain carbon and organic matter and hope they could explain how they are related to Earth.