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Ancient Baby Bottles

Throughout history babies have been breastfed. Obviously. But, what happened to babies whose mother’s died, couldn’t produce milk or for some other reason didn't have access to breastmilk? Well these babies were often fed using a wet nurse OR other types of animal milk.

We often think of baby bottles as a modern phenomena but there is evidence that feeding bottles were used during ancient times. For decades, archaeologists across the Europe have discovered small cups and bowls with drinking spouts dating to the Neolithic Period. At first, they were thought to be used for filling oil lamps. However, after examining residue left in these ancient vessels & finding traces of casein, researchers have confirmed they were used to dispense animal milk.

Writing from ancient Egypt and Babylon suggest that in the absence of breastmilk, infants were fed animal milk (usually from cows or goats), as well as clear porridge made from milk and flour, served in horns or small pots with cloth teats.

Extensive research suggests that many different devices were used throughout history to feed animal's milk to infants. Some of these ancient ‘bottles’ were made from wood, ceramics, and cows' horns. In fact, a cow's horn snipped off at the end was the most common type of feeding bottle during the Middle Ages.

In another study, a child's molar from the Neanderthal period was analysed. By studying the levels of barium in the tooth, they were able to establish that this child was exclusively breastfed for approximately 7 months after which additional food was added to their diet, before they were completely weaned at around 18 months.

These results surprised the scientific community, as this child was weaned much younger than expected. In nature, chimpanzees breastfeed their young until around 5 years old and in non-industrialised populations until around 2.5 years of age. However, this particular finding is based upon the analysis of a single fossil tooth, and therefore it’s impossible to generalise.

References: Lehmann 1966; Austin et al 2013; Coulon 2004; Weinberg, 1993

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