Radiocarbon and stable isotope evidence of dietary change from the Mesolithic to the Middle Ages in the Iron Gates: new results from Lepenski Vir

Clive Bonsall, Gordon Cook, Robert Hedges, Thomas Higham, Catriona Pickard, Ivana Radovanović

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A previous radiocarbon dating and stable isotope study of directly associated ungulate and human bone samples from Late Mesolithic burials at Schela Cladovei in Romania established that there is a freshwater reservoir effect of approximately 500 yr in the Iron Gates reach of the Danube River valley in southeast Europe. Using the d15N values as an indicator of the percentage of freshwater protein in the human diet, the 14C data for 24 skeletons from the site of Lepenski Vir were corrected for this reservoir effect. The results of the paired 14C and stable isotope measurements provide evidence of substantial dietary change over the period from about 9000 BP to about 300 BP. The data from the Early Mesolithic to the Chalcolithic are consistent with a 2-component dietary system, where the linear plot of isotopic values reflects mixing between the 2 end-members to differing degrees. Typically, the individuals of Mesolithic age have much heavier d15N signals and slightly heavier d13C, while individuals of Early Neolithic and Chalcolithic age have lighter d15N and d13C values. Contrary to our earlier suggestion, there is no evidence of a substantial population that had a transitional diet midway between those that were characteristic of the Mesolithic and Neolithic. However, several individuals with Final Mesolithic 14C ages show d15N and d13C values that are similar to the Neolithic dietary pattern. Provisionally, these are interpreted either as incomers who originated in early farming communities outside the Iron Gates region or as indigenous individuals representing the earliest Neolithic of the Iron Gates. The results from Roman and Medieval age burials show a deviation from the linear function, suggesting the presence of a new major dietary component containing isotopically heavier carbon. This is interpreted as a consequence of the introduction of millet into the human food chain.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)293-300
Number of pages8
JournalRadiocarbon: An International Journal of Cosmogenic Isotope Research
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2004


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