An article published in the journal Nature (link here) describes some carbon-dating techniques and other analysis that a collaborative group from the U.S., England, and Poland performed on pottery sieves found at a Neolithic archaeology site in Eastern Poland.
Basically, this group report evidence that these sieves, which date from ~5300 to 4900 B.C., were definitely used to process milk and were designed (hammered at) to be able to separate the whey-protein clumps from the typical fat-rich milk curds that result from milk spoilage. This method is similar to the way that many cheese-makers do it today.
To-date, this is the earliest evidence of human beings making cheese .
|These are the actual sieve fragments that contained milk residue that was carbon-dated .|
As all of you know, the production of cheese can be viewed as sort-of the controlled, variably nuanced, spoilage of milk. Historically, the process may have been put to use by farmers who wanted to preserve the milk for a longer period, as it was a precious commodity, and/or to make it more digestible or palatable.
The article's abstract includes the following of interest: "The processing of milk, particularly the production of cheese, would have been a critical development because it not only allowed the preservation of milk products in a non-perishable and transportable form, but also it made milk a more digestible commodity for early prehistoric farmer."
It turns out that pre-historic man was on to something pretty big. It's a fascinating story all together.
Thank you, Keyrock and friends. Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer.