We will examine the following range of isotopes:
Strontium. Strontium is an element present in different ratios in bedrock of different geological formations. It is embedded in the tissues of living organisms feeding on these different subsoils, where it preserves a signature specific to the geological area from which an organism obtained most of its food.
Successful strontium studies have already been carried out for many archaeological sites and time periods, for instance for the Beaker period (Grupe et al. 1997; Price et al. 2004), Thailand (Bentley et al. 2007) and also for the LBK (e.g. Bentley et al. 2003; Price et al. 2001), but for the latter our project will significantly expand on the geographical area covered.
Oxygen. Stable isotopes of oxygen differ in the drinking water available in different areas of Europe, but these patterns work at relatively broad scales (e.g. Fitzpatrick 2003). So, while strontium gives an indication to the type of subsoil an individual procured their food from, oxygen can trace longer-distance migration from one area to another.
Carbon and Nitrogen. These isotopes can give an indication for what kinds of food were consumed. Carbon is particularly relevant for reconstructing plant-based diet, while nitrogen is correlated with the amount and kinds of animal meat consumed (e.g. van Klinken et al. 2000; Hedges and Reynard 2007).
Calcium. Measuring calcium isotopes is a relatively new technique which allows to reconstruct the intake of dairy products in a past population (Chu et al. 2006). So far, this has not yet been studied at all for the LBK, so this project is an opportunity to test the information potential of this technique alongside others.
C14 dating. Alongside actually giving us dates, a comparison of C14 dates between humans and associated animals bones can give an indication of the importance of freshwater fish in the diet, due to the freshwater reservoir effects (i.e. the resulting radiocarbon dates are too old, see e.g. Cook et al. 2001). For the LBK, the role of fish in the diet was probably not pronounced, but we will test the potential for further study with a few selected samples.
LBK Burial on display at Straubing Museum, Bavaria.
Traditional osteological analysis can also give a lot of information on an individual’s dietary status (for instance caries, or episodes of malnutrition) and on general health. We will carry out some palaeopathological analyses in the course of this project to complement work that has already been carried out, especially on the larger bone assemblages.
While our main aim is to reconstruct migration and diet in the human population, we will also need to sample isotopes in animal bones. Animal bones provide the necessary baseline to interpret the human values. For example, pigs do not generally move far from the settlements in which they are kept. When measuring strontium isotopes, they hence supply a good indication of biologically available strontium (i.e. the combination of strontium derived from plants grown in different fields, drinking water etc.) at a given site. Similar principles also apply to a consideration of dietary isotopes. In addition, an investigation of isotopes in animal bones can yield very interesting information on herding patterns and livestock movement (Bentley and Knipper 2005).