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Ancient skulls reveal history of human lactose tolerance

The DNA of skulls from Hungary has allowed scientists to better understand the origins of human lactose tolerance.

In a study published this week in the journal Nature Communications, scientists analyzed the DNA of 13 people's remains from central Europe's Great Hungarian Plain. The bones at the site span from 5,700 B.C.E. to 800 B.C.E., and the ancient bones have shed new light on Europe's prehistory, LiveScience reports.

The researchers discovered that the ancient Europeans may have consumed dairy products for 4,000 years before developing lactose tolerance. Previously, archaeologists thought that ancient Europeans began consuming dairy only 7,500 years ago, during the Neolithic period.

"This means that these ancient Europeans would have had domesticated animals like cows, goats and sheep, but they would not yet have genetically developed a tolerance for drinking large quantities of milk from mammals," Ron Pinhasi, senior author of the study, told LiveScience.

The scientists are now studying additional human DNA from 13,000 years ago "to find out about genetic diversity that existed before and after the Ice Age," Pinhasi said.