Ancient Scandinavians Were Lactose-Intolerant

Their gut could not digest milk proteins

  Stone age people living in Scandinavia 4,000 years ago could not tolerate lactose
A collaboration of researchers at the Uppsala University and Stockholm University has recently discovered, following a new study, that the ancient inhabitants of Scandinavia were lactose-intolerant. The people living in what are now Sweden, Norway and Finland tended to have a really hard time digesting milk proteins, the scientists discovered. The findings apply to individuals that lived at these locations approximately 4,000 years ago, the team reveals, quoted by AlphaGalileo.

The discovery has significant implications for establishing the origins of the people currently living in Scandinavia. Researchers proposed some time ago that the populations living in these three countries at that moment were not direct descendants of the group of people that lived there millennia ago. Rather, it would seem like they are the offspring of a group that arrived in the northern parts of Europe later on. Details of the study appear in the latest issue of the respected journal BMC Evolutionary Biology,

“This group of hunter-gatherers differed significantly from modern Swedes in terms of the DNA sequence that we generally associate with a capacity to digest lactose into adulthood,” University College Cork in Ireland expert Anna Linderholm says. She also held an appointment at the Stockholm University Archaeological Research Laboratory. “One possibility is that these differences [in DNA] are evidence of a powerful selection process, through which the Stone Age hunter-gatherers’ genes were lost due to some significant advantage associated with the capacity to digest milk. The other possibility is that we simply are not descended from this group of Stone Age people,” she adds.

Many investigators currently believe that human prehistory may have been significantly influenced by Stone Age people's inability to consume milk and digest lactose. “This capacity is closely associated with the transition from hunter-gatherer to agricultural societies,” UU Department of Evolutionary Biology expert Anders Gotherstrom explains. The work was conducted as part of the research project LeCHE (Lactase persistence and the early Cultural History of Europe), and Gotherstrom was its coordinator.

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By    1 Apr 2010, 22:01 GMT