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The diet of settled Neolithic farmers of east-central Europe: isotopic and dental microwear evidence

Publication at Faculty of Science, Central Library of Charles University |


This study reconstructs Middle and Late Neolithic dietary practices in the area of the today Czech Republic and Lower Austria with a help of complementary evidence of stable isotope and dental microwear analysis. From a total of 171 humans, carbon and nitrogen isotopic values were measured in bone collagen of 146 individuals (accompanied by 64 animals) while 113 individuals were included into buccal dental microwear analysis.

The samples were divided into two newly established chronological phases: Neolithic B (4900-4000 BC) and Neolithic C (3800-3400 BC) based on radiocarbon data modelling. Isotopic results show that the Neolithic diet was of terrestrial origin with a dominant plant component.

A small but statistically significant shift in human carbon isotopic values to a higher delta C-13 was observed during the Neolithic C, probably reflecting an underlying change in plant growing conditions. Dental microwear results suggest a shift in adult diet and/or food preparation techniques between the Neolithic B and C, which, however, was not reflected in either the carbon or nitrogen isotopic values.

The positive correlations between nitrogen isotopic values and the dental microwear variables (NV, XV, XT and NV/NT) observed in the adult sample suggest that meat rather than milk was the dominant source of animal protein, or that food enriched in N-15 was processed specifically. Also, as both methods offer a snapshot of different periods of an individual's life, the presence of a significant correlation may imply highly repetitive dietary behaviour during their lifetime.