Dairy Is Paleo Part #2/3 Who Says What is “Domestication”?

by Ravi, Part #2 of 3

(if you have not read Part #1, you may click here)

OPENING COMMENTS: For Part #2 of 3:  Clearly I do not agree with conventional anthropological assumptions of no dairy consumption prior to the fertile crescent settling of humans as agriculturalists.  Additionally, I am disheartened by otherwise unconventional paleo/primal diet adherents and promoters so readily dismissing dairy by relying on the same limited CW (conventional wisdom) thinking.


True lactose intolerance is statistically very small.  In fact, lactose intolerance rates are repeatedly being found to be minimal and dependent on amounts of lactose consumed. This reveals that most people are actually lactose “maldigesters” simply producing reduced amounts of the necessary lactase. It has also be recently discussed that the specific test that has been used in many prior analysis, a inefficient lactose-load test, caused many false positives as the carbohydrate content of  the test dairy consumed also increased blood glucose, confounding the analysis.  A considerably more accurate test – a hydrogen breath test – is now being used (see study here). Contrast lactose intolerance then with the estimation of the ravages of grain consumption – specifically wheat – presented in this paper.

Since starting this series of posts, I have run into a revealing meta-analysis of lactose intolerance studies over the last 35 years with regard to a meal-size portion of dairy (randomized, crossover, blind) studies. Their conclusion was that lactose intolerance is, in fact, very small (in the single digit%) looking at results from 21 studies of a possible pool of over 1500 studies. It seems that this category of lactose maldigestors  (people with reduced lactose) can still tolerate a reasonable, meal-accompanying size dose of dairy without issue. It also seems that there are psychological components involved in claiming lactose-intolerance.  The difference between recipients of a placebo vs. actual lactose maldigestors in numerous studies, was almost negligible. You can see the meta-analysis here. I will explore more of the nutritional aspects in part #3.

In contrast, eating any substantial amount of grains is pretty firmly understood, both theoretically and pragmatically, to be a neolithic development (notwithstanding the ecstatic cries of vegetarians at the discovery of grass seeds in the teeth of ancient human remains – I chew grass too…).  I want to emphasize that I am proposing probable paleo dairy consumption for a significant number of human populations, not all (as every last HG group that may have contributed to our modern gene pool may not have kept goats).  That said, I believe one could still argue that a line of paleolithic humans that took up animal husbandry would be much better equipped to navigate various sundry survival challenges having engaged the resources inherit in keeping animals close at hand.

Also, I am strictly speaking of goat milk and products – I do NOT believe that cows wandered around with our paleolithic pals (save, perhaps, a few populations like the Massai and their progenitors).  Cow milk is being shown to cause more digestive and allergy problems than goat dairy. Cow dairy is, I believe, still overall beneficial albeit a neolithic foodstuff for most populations. There is quite a collection of studies indicating the benefits of consuming full-fat dairy in a variety of modern populations. (You may email me for the list of links I have).

Anyway – on with the discussion….

The Definition of “Domestication” and

a Significant Genetic Study at Odds with Itself.

What Actually is Considered “Domestication”?

That all human populations found the identical reasons and methods of utilizing goats (or any other creatures) is in itself a ridiculous assumption.  However, this is exactly what conventional thinking wants us to believe – that humans only recognized the value of and took the necessary (and nearly the same) steps to capture and domesticate goats once they settled down in the fertile crescent for growing those oh-so-healthy grains. It also would imply thereby,  that paleolithic humans suddenly evolved skills a mere 10,000 years ago that would have allowed them both the intelligence and foresight to domesticate animals for their benefit. Before that – when it came to understanding the benefits of keeping certain animals that could successfully travel with them conferring substantial survival advantages – then CW claims: no-comprehende.

Just as modern people keep animals for a wide variety of reasons – both pragmatic and aesthetic, why would our ancestors not find the same variety of reasons and perhaps even more?  This is especially cogent as HG (hunter-gatherer) tribal living conditions were more widely varied than our present-day rather homogenized lifestyles and social structures. I also think it fair to assume that in the absence of the amount of inter-connectedness we experience as a species today, HG tribes and populations lived hugely varied lifestyles and with equally varied belief systems.

The how and why of the association between humans and specific animals in their environment could well have been exceptionally more diverse compared to today. The term “domestication” is itself limited to what anthropologists decide it is.  Would “taming” be a precedent to “domestication” and if so, how long prior to the fertile crescent did humans capture, keep and roam with “tamed” goats?  If my question is relevant, then would there even be any possible evidence remaining after 20, 30 or 50 thousand years save for the questionable genetic-change-by-domestication-pressures proposed by conventional archeology?  I fear not.  And to reiterate from part 1, would the capturing, taming and keeping of goats even necessitate the species to genetically modify itself if no such pressure was exerted on them by their human HG keepers?

A Genetic Study At Odds With Itself

A recent study of goat genetic diversity from India , and the contradictory conclusions/speculations in that study is a case-in-point. In this study we see a substantive body of genetic evidence being uncovered that simply cannot be reconciled with the assumed 10,000 year ago domestication theory.  The authors of the study repeatedly state their inability to effectively reconcile the genetic evidence of much earlier, significant changes in goat breed genetics (that would imply earlier domestication according to CW methodology). They even go so far to state that even though the data analysis seems to show a much earlier possible domestication event, they conclude, without explanation: “a [domestication] time of 35,000 years ago in the Paleolithic period is not credible.”

Why not? (they never say…).

In their opening comments, the study authors state: “Goats have fulfilled agricultural, economic, cultural and even religious roles from very early times in human civilization.” (how early?) Also, “These 3 lineages” (referring to the 3 major lines of goats in the world) “were judged to have diverged over 200,000 years ago: this ancient divergence time and the different geographical localizations of lineages suggested the likelihood of either multiple domestication events or introgressions of additional lineages after the original domestication.” Unfortunately, some of the indicated “introgressions” (the inclusion of new genes in the then-stable gene pool) happened  – according to their genetic analysis – long before the 10k limit on CW theory.  What “original domestication” are they referring to? The implied earlier additional domestication events perhaps many 10’s or even over 100,000 years ago,  or the CW accepted “original domestication of 8000 to 10,000 years ago?

And finally, they state: “We find evidence for population structure and additional lineages in Indian goats, and cannot reconcile the genetic diversity found within the major lineage with domestication starting about 10,000 years ago from a single mtDNA ancestor.  Thus we propose a more complex origin for domestic goats.”  They then go on to outline their genetic methodology and to attempt, in their conclusions, to explain that these anomalies, (ones falling well outside of the expected conventional time-frame of domestication), were due to some other factors or even calculation errors. Anything but to seriously suggest a simpler, more logical explanation – that humans and human ancestors may well have “domesticated” goats long before 10,000 years ago and there were, in fact, very probably “multiple domestication events” all over the place!  Additionally, I would contend that in taming/domesticating goats, goat genetics may or may not have altered in captivity.

The ongoing contortions to not deviate from the now-accepted conventional theories of fertile crescent domestication destroy real investigatory progress and lead to a kind of “emperor had no clothes” unquestioning of accepted theory for which data from a study may have laid bare.  The authors of this study donned the straight-jacket of “genetic changes are indications of domestication events” from the get-go and thereby dooming their conclusions to unresolved contradictions to current theory and robbing their study of the chance to break new ground or suggest new possibilities (see Indian goat study here).

“Multiple Domestication Events”

The phrase that strikes me is: “…suggested the likelihood of either multiple domestication events…” .  Why is is so hard to believe that many, varied populations of paleolithic humans could have captured and kept goats?

Our paleolithic humans/human ancestors: Hunted with weapons ranging from crude stone (several hundred thousand years back) to upper-paleolithic fine spears and harpoons, they had rough-sewn clothing, they created wall art depicting cooperative large game hunting, they had religious rituals (evidenced in burial sites), they used/made fire, they had primitive houses made from bone (ca. 30,000 years ago), and even had musical instruments (flutes dated 27,000 years ago – Pan’s Flute?).  Why, for the school-conditioned academic mind, is it so hard to accept that animal husbandry in the paleolithic times – for survival or companionship – was possible?  I would contend that without the almost-impossible specific evidence of pre-agricultural human nomadic/pastoral life with animals, science has stigmatized any suggestion that such events could have possibly happened before 10,000 years ago.  It is an absurd assertion, in fact, that is was “not credible” that paleolithic humans could  have had the intellectual or practical capability to capture, tame, keep and wander nomadic with goats.

Humans, Dogs, Goats…

The Development of Companionship and Mutual Benefit

In arguing for a much earlier goat/human connection, checking into the dog/human story is of interest.  Dogs, with their pack mentality, took to humans as their “masters” – and us to them – through needs and benefits that each offered the other.  As I mentioned earlier – the genetic wolf/dog genetic separation happened over 100,000 years ago but hard evidence of dogs in the seeming domestic presence of humans fades after 14,000 years back.  There have been finds that would “perhaps” indicate a dog/human association much further back – but since dogs have also been used (and still are) as food in some cultures – the mere presence of human and dog bones together in a find many tens of thousands of years old cannot definitively reveal the relationship –  food, companionship or both.

I would make the same claim for goats – and even more emphatically.  A “tamed” association with goats would leave virtually nothing in the fossil record that could positively be ascertained to be a human/domestic goat relationship. But that is where my Part 3 look at goat dairy nutritional information comes in.  I believe we can assume – from the fossil record, as well as extrapolating from the characteristics of the animals themselves – that cattle and their ancestors were not likely animals that were anything more than hunted in pre-neolithic times (possible Massai exception already noted).

However, a goat can travel on virtually any terrain (certainly any terrain a human can travel on) and eat a wide variety of vegetation. In fact, goats can survive and even thrive on what would appear to be an extremely rough and poor diet of bushes, trees, grasses and miscellaneous vegetation.  No special diet or care beyond that which a traveling HG tribe would need themselves – regular water and vegetation along the way, would render goats very easy and flexible traveling companions.  In actual leading, goats can be occasionally stubborn but ultimately cooperative in being guided along the way. With that flexibility, lactating goats offer milk – a substance familiar to human mammals – and tasty milk at that.  In a pinch – an aging goat traveling along would be an easy meat meal.  Finally, as anyone who knows goats can tell you – they are intelligent and engaging creatures with complex personalities and bonding characteristics as strong as dogs.

It could well be argued, from the known traditional herding relationship of humans, dogs and goats, that dogs and goats were “domesticated” (or brought into tamed service)  in close proximity. Dogs – decedents from predators but now in the service of humans, are quite good at protecting  – for their human masters – the goats that are normally prey. The functioning triad of humans, goats/sheep and dogs has a strong historic stability in pastoral traditions. Why would the advent of agriculture have, in fact, any relationship to these traditions, as very old pastoralist cultures (nomadic and non-domestic) are found in places far-flung from the domestication “ground zero” of the middle eastern fertile crescent?

Conventional disciplines – such as anthropology – need to produce theories both for self-validation and also theories that are upheld over and over again by new evidence purported to show the theory as valid.  The trouble with this approach is that no matter how many times a theory is seemingly validated, it is still theory. Additionally, there is a great bias to “prove” a theory that cannot, in fact, be either proven or dis-proven. Human intellectual egos need to believe that they “know” how things came to be as they are – it makes the inventive person feel intelligently deductive and the field of study, legitimate.

Theory only legitimately passes into scientific fact when incontrovertible evidence is joined with repeatable, demonstrable proofs.  Unfortunately, conventional anthropological domestication theory is nowhere near proving their domestication contentions. The current conclusions are drawn from the most flimsy – and contradictory – of these unproven assumptions.  Once seemingly reasonable theories are established and repeated often enough in textbooks, cited in other studies and with time-passing, these theories are difficult to dislodge – rather like a large splinter calloused over and left to fester.

In part #3 I will look at the practical characteristics of goats that make them an excellent candidate for ancient man’s next-best-friend. I’ll also review the nutritional evidence that can realistically be interpreted as indicating human consumption of goat dairy at least long enough in the paleo past for humans to have evolved many and varied health benefits from its consumption.

This post part of Real Food Wednesday – to return click here

Do you have any comments or observations on this discussion so far? Please join in here:

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One Response to Dairy Is Paleo Part #2/3 Who Says What is “Domestication”?

  1. Jane says:

    Wonderful stuff. I’ve suspected this kind of thing for years, but never had the time to research it.

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