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Alpine research

Iron Age man was a fan of Swiss cheese

Swiss cheese-making could date back to prehistoric times, say British archaeologists. They have found evidence on ceramic pots found at six sites in the Alps. 

An international research team led by York and Newcastle universities studied residues found on small pieces of pottery dating from the Neolithic times to the Iron Age.

They found that the residue on shards from the 1st Millennium BC – the Iron Age - had the same chemical signatures associated with heating milk from animals such as cows, sheep and goats, as part of the cheese-making process. 

The pieces were found in the ruins of buildings similar to those used by modern alpine dairy farmers.

Although there is evidence for cheese production in lowland settings, very little is known up to now about the origins of cheese-making at altitude due to the poor preservation of archaeological sites.

The researchers say that the development of alpine dairying occurred around the same time as an increasing population and the growth of arable farming in the lowlands. The resulting pressure on valley pastures forced herders to higher elevations.

“Even today, producing cheese in a high mountainous environment requires extraordinary effort,” Francesco Carrer, a research associate at Newcastle University, said in a statement

“Prehistoric herders would have had to have detailed knowledge of the location of alpine pastures, be able to cope with unpredictable weather and have the technological knowledge to transform milk into a nutritious and storable product.”

swissinfo.ch and agencies


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