Prehistoric Babies Drank Milk out of Bottles Too, Archaeological Study Finds

Even over 5,000 years ago, babies used something similar to drink milk.
Fabienne Lang

An archaeological dig in Bavaria, southern Germany, has uncovered artifacts dating back to prehistoric times, some of which appear to be baby bottles

Prehistoric infants used similar milk-drinking vessels as babies in the modern era. 

The findings were published in Nature yesterday.


Bronze and Iron Age graves

These artifacts were found in the graves of infants dating back to the Bronze and Iron Age. It has been predicted, however, that these types of pottery vessels, with little spouts for drinking, can go all the way back to Neolithic times, over 5,000 years ago. 

Selection of Late Bronze Age feeding vessels. Vessels are from Vienna, Oberleis, Vösendorf and Franzhausen-Kokoron (from left to right), dated to around 1200–  800 BC. Source: Katharina Rebay-Salisbury/Research Gate

It's been previously suggested that these vessels served as items to feed babies, but until now it has been difficult to prove what they were used for.

Part of the issue was the smallness of these spouts, making it hard to decipher what may have been inside these pots. 

This is where Julie Dunne, Richard Evershed, and their colleagues from the University of Bristol, in the U.K., come in. 

A prehistoric family scene showing an infant being fed with a baby bottle similar to those we sampled. Source: Christian Bisig/Swiss Archaeology

The team looked at three different types of vessels with open bowls from the graves in Bavaria. Two of the vessels came from an Early Iron Age cemetery complex, dating between 400 - 850 BC. The third vessel came from a Late Bronze Age necropolis, which dated between 1200 - 800 BC. 

All of the items were discovered next to infant remains, aged between zero and six years old

How did the team deduce these vessels were used as milk bottles? 

Modern-day baby feeding from reconstructed infant feeding vessel of the type investigated here. Source: Helena Seidl da Fonseca/University of Vienna

By analyzing the lipid residue, the team discovered fatty acids from animal products, which includes fresh milk. Two of the 'bottles' appear to have offered milk from ruminant animals — such as cows and goats — whereas the others had remnants of mixed, non-ruminant dairy milk, like from us humans or pigs. 

From these findings, the team has put forward the possibility that babies from these eras were fed animal milk from these types of vessels.