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Farmers and their Cheese Changed the Human Skull!

S u m m a r y :
Farming came with dairy products like cheese, a combination that changed the shape of the human skull years and years ago! The findings are published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Foragers to Farmers: Skull Changes

When farming became a thing among earlier human populations, it came hand in hand with dairy products like cheese. The new lifestyle contrasted with the previous one which was dominated by hunting and foraging for wild foods as means of obtaining one’s sustenance. Transitioning to the softer diet meant that the people no more had to put in as much effort as they used to (for chewing for example), a new habit that put heads into a new mould, suggests the new study conducted by a team of anthropologists from the University of California, Davis.

A number of studies have hinted at a possible link between agriculture (and thus softer foods) and skull shape. But, the previous data did not establish any large-scale consistency pertaining to the changes. This is where the more recent findings become useful.

Studying Skull Morphology Modifications

The UC study authors studied a collection of bones that came from all over the world: 559 crania and 534 lower jaws (skull bones). These were retrieved from more than 20 populations living before industrialisation, back when agriculture was the norm. The aim was to determine the effects of diet on human skull morphology (its shape, form, and size) when people made the lifestyle shift.

Changes in skull shape from foragers to farmers; modifications indicated by blue dashes. Photo credits: David Katz and Tim Weaver, UC Davis.

The findings show small but significant changes in the human skull for groups consuming on cereals, or dairy, or both items. Co-author David Katz explains that the changes related to the effects of a decreased need for chewing.

“The main differences between forager and farmer skulls are where we would expect to find them, and change in ways we might expect them to, if chewing demands decreased in farming groups,” says Katz.

Chew Cheese, and Have Skulls That Are Less Robust!

The consumption of dairy products (cheese) appear to be even more pertinent. The skull was subjected to the greatest changes in groups feeding on these food items in particular, implying that agriculture affected skull morphology the most in people eating the softest food! With cheese-chewing, the skull became less robust.

We know that milk is good for the bones, but Katz points out that it did not produce bigger and stronger skull bones in early farmers!

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