Research & Results

Agriculture and palaeodietary development in Neolithic and Bronze Ages on the basis of stable carbon and nitrogen isotope values in biological remains

National Science Centre, grant "HARMONIA"
Dr. Aldona Mueller-Bieniek


The aim of the project is the reconstruction of palaeodiet and tracing of its changes in time and space on the background of cultural and palaeogeographical changes. The studies of human husbandry at the beginning of agriculture are usually burdened with error as the remains preserved in archaeological sites are always fragmentary. The use of stable nitrogen isotope values as an independent source of information respecting the rule that the δ15N ratio grows in the trophic chain appeared methodologically uncertain. Isotopic studies of crops as part of the trophic chain showed that the value of 15N increases in manured plants, especially in grains, in the level placing manured grains in a similar place of the trophic chain as the wild herbivores. According to archaeobotanical and isotopic studies manuring was used from the beginning of the Neolithic. That means that the picture of values of δ15N in the trophic chain is not so clear as it was previously stated. Additionally, the information obtained during the analysis of stable carbon isotopes in plant remains can be a very important tool in palaeoenvironmental reconstructions mainly by reflecting past hydrological conditions.

In the project, studies of archaeobotanical remains dated to the Neolithic and Bronze Age from Kujawy and Małopolska will be joined with information coming from archaeozoological and anthropological studies from the same sites and microregions. Plant remains are a limiting factor in environmental studies as they are usually scarcer and less intensively studied than other biological remains. In the frame of the project, archaeobotanical research of Ludwinowo 7 site is planned. The site was studied archaeologically and osteologically during rescue excavations a few years ago when soil samples for botanical studies were collected.

The introduction of stable isotope analysis of research materials already raised and worked out in the traditional way will enable verification of earlier findings connected with prehistoric husbandry in the studied area. Additionally, the introduction of the newest research technique and interpretation tools will allow reconstructing palaeodiet of the settlers of recently studied archaeological sites and settlement microregions. The appearing of agriculture and disseminating of that idea together with human migrations as well as introducing of that knowledge by native hunter-gatherers has important meaning for our civilization development. The possibility of food overproduction, its storing and trade has created some foundations for appearing town centres, intensive craft and culture development.