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Prehistoric diet transitions: an archaeological perspective
Stockholm University, Faculty of Humanities, Department of Archaeology and Classical Studies, Archaeology.
1995 (English)Doctoral thesis, comprehensive summary (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

This is a study of prehistoric diet transitions within the Baltic area during the Stone Age. More specific the changes in diet expected to be found when hunter-gatherer subsistence is changed into a farming subsistence. This transition should be able to detect in the bone material as changes in trace element amounts and changes in stable isotopes.

There is an advantage of using quantitative methods compared to qualitative ones when analysing diet patterns, where prehistoric bones have proven to be an excellent archive for long-term quantitatve dietary information.

This study is based on analyses of stable isotopes and trace elements on more than 120 human bone samples originating from different geographical locations and different time periods. Collagen is the bone protein used for stable isotope analyses. The carbon in collagen originates from the proteins digested and will consequently provide dietary information. Thus it is important that the analysed carbon originates from collagen only. There are, however, other bone constituents that can confuse the measurements, e.g., lipids. They have a deviating isotope value and must be removed before isotope analysis.

Another problem of using stable carbon isotopes as dietary indicator in the Baltic area has been the complicated natural history of the Baltic Sea. The varying marine influence has affected the isotopic signature, i.e., the marine end-value. However, as long as an end-value is determined at the specific time period of interest, the method works just as in the big oceans (but with a modified end-value).

In this thesis the isotope studies were combined with trace element analysis of copper and zinc.

The transition from hunter-gatherers to farmers is one of the most discussed topics in Stone Age archaeology. By using trace elements and stable isotopes it was shown that there was no general picture of the diet during the Stone Age. There was no temporal change, neither was there any correlation between diet and culture. The strongest correlation was instead between diet and geographical location, mostly coastal or inland.

One hypotheses regarding the transition from hunter-gatherers to farmers is the stress hypothesis. This stipulates that sedentary hunter-fishing populations in northern Europe suffered from nutritional stress. Stable isotope analyses on a sedentary subneolithic Slone Age population from the Aland islands showed that they lived mainly on marine resources. However, from palaeopathological analyses on the skeletal material, it was concluded that this population did not show sufficient indications of stress to support the stress hypothesis.

Some authors claim that high social complexity is a prerequisite for the introduction of farming. The erection of megaliths is a sign of such a high social complexity and has been suggested to have been built by a cereal cultivating population. Application of stable carbon and nitrogen isotopes on two megalith populations (Rössberga, Västergötland, and Resmo, Öland) showed that the introduction of farming in this area was based on domesticated animals but with only a minor influence on cereals. A continued use of marine resources was apparent in the megalith population from coastal areas.

Finally, a specialized utilization of crustaceans could be shown in settlements at, or nearby, a lagoon, as seen in the populations at Mesolithic Skateholm and at Neolithic Resmo.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Stockholm: Department of archeology, Stockholm University , 1995. , p. 41
Series
Theses and papers in scientific archaeology, ISSN 1400-7835 ; 1
National Category
Archaeology
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:su:diva-154329Libris ID: 8362250ISBN: 91-628-1679-9 (print)OAI: oai:DiVA.org:su-154329DiVA, id: diva2:1192882
Public defence
1995-06-10, Föreläsningssalen, Manne Siegbahnhuset, Frescativägen 24, Stockholm, 10:00
Note

Härtill 6 uppsatser

Available from: 2018-03-23 Created: 2018-03-23 Last updated: 2019-06-11Bibliographically approved

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