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Why breast may not have been best for Iron Age babies

ALL the experts agree breast is best for baby - but it may be less traditional than we think. Yorkshire research suggests Iron Age infants were on the ancient equivalent of formula.

Molecular-level examinations of 2,000-year-old bones from the Wetwang burial site, near Driffield, East Yorkshire, have produced puzzling results, leading scientists to speculate that ancient people were even more concerned about food taboos than we are today.
Mandy Jay, of Bradford's archaeology department, has examined the bones of more than 50 adults and 25 infants, analysing isotopes of carbon and nitrogen in the collagen to see what kind of proteins the Iron Age people ate.

All the adults, from wealthy warriors interred with chariots in burial mounds to paupers buried in ditches, seem to have eaten plenty of animal protein, which produces the same type of collagen, whether dairy or meat.

That should mean bones of breast-fed infants would have even higher protein levels, as they would be drinking milk from mothers who were themselves nourished with animal proteins.

But instead, babies' bones have levels comparable with a diet of cows' milk.

Ms Jay said: "It may be a society where they didn't want to breastfeed too long because they wanted to toughen the children up.
"If they were trying to feed their children cows' milk, the chances are they would have a higher mortality rate, which is something I would have to examine."

Alternatively, the low levels could also be due to women becoming vegan when pregnant or breastfeeding. A temporary change in diet wouldn't show up in the women's bones, as adult collagen is laid down over several years.

"It's very difficult to understand what a different society would think. To them, drinking milk while producing milk may have seemed strange. There are societies that do all kinds of things with pregnant and menstruating women," she said.

They certainly seem to have imposed plenty of other dietary restrictions. Bones more than 6,000 years old show Stone Age man suddenly stopped eating fish and shellfish, possibly because of taboos about wild food as people became settled farmers.

Fish wasn't back on the menu until the Romans arrived, 4,000 years later.
Perhaps the most intriguing finds are two human bones from Wetwang, whose owners appear to have been vegan, though Ms Jay is cautious as to what they mean.

She said: "They could have belonged to a class that was being fed differently, such as a slave class, or they could have had some kind of disease and had to become vegan. We can't really say, but I'm very excited about it."
Posted by BrigantesNation
23rd February 2004ce
Edited 24th February 2004ce

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