Stable isotope ratio analysis of bone collagen as indicator of different dietary habits and environmental conditions in northeastern Iberia during the 4th and 3rd millennium cal B.C.

  • Vanessa Villalba-MoucoEmail author
  • Izaskun Sarasketa-Gartzia
  • Pilar Utrilla
  • F. Xavier Oms
  • Carlos Mazo
  • Susana Mendiela
  • Artur Cebrià
  • Domingo C. Salazar-GarcíaEmail author
Original Paper


The Late Neolithic and Chalcolithic periods are poorly understood in northeastern Iberia. Most of the information comes from the sepulchral structures rather than habitat settlements. The high number of individuals usually recovered from this types of collective burial spaces, together with the low number of direct radiocarbon dates available on them, forces us to be cautious and consider all the studied assemblages as belonging to the so-called Late Neolithic-Chalcolithic time period. To evaluate human dietary patterns of the Late Neolithic-Chalcolithic populations from the northeast of Iberia, stable carbon and nitrogen isotope analysis was carried out on 78 humans and 32 faunal bones from Cova de la Guineu (Font-rubí, Barcelona) and Cueva de Abauntz (Arraitz, Navarra), both of them sepulchral sites. Results show a common dietary pattern in both sites, indicating an homogeneous protein diet based on C3 terrestrial resources and no isotopic evidence of the consumption of C4 plants. Only one individual from Cueva de Abauntz, who directly dates to the first moments of the use of the cave as a burial place, suggests a different protein intake. The inter-population analysis shows a significant difference between both human and faunal δ13C values, suggesting an environmental influence on the isotope values depending on the geographic location. This effect should not be discarded and always assessed with baseline isotopic values in future studies at each area of Iberia and for different chronological moments.


Sepulchral caves Late Neolithic-Chalcolithic Carbon and nitrogen isotopes Cova de la Guineu Cueva de Abauntz 



VVM has a predoctoral scholarship funded by the Gobierno de Aragón and the Fondo Social Europeo (BOA20150701025) and did a research stay at the University of Cape Town funded by the Fundación Ibercaja-CAI (2016) and DCSG’s UCT and BBVA research grants. VVM, CMP and PU are members of the Spanish project HAR2014-59042-P (Transiciones climáticas y adaptaciones sociales en la prehistoria de la Cuenca del Ebro), and VVM, CMP and PU are members of the regional government of Aragón PPVE research group (H-07: Primeros Pobladores del Valle del Ebro). ISG has a predoctoral scholarship funded by Basque Goverment and is a member of the Spanish project HAR2014-53536-P and IT-662-13. All authors would like to thank the Museo de Navarra, specially to Jesús García Gazólaz for allowing the study of Cueva de Abauntz in the Universidad de Zaragoza facilities, as well as to the Centro de Espeleología de Aragón (CEA), specially Mario Gisbert for the topography of Cueva de Abauntz. We also thank Víctor Sauqué for the help with fauna identification and Jesús Laborda and J. Ignacio Lorenzo for their help in the transport of the archaeological material, as well as Ian Newton for the technical assistance.


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© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Departamento de Ciencias de la Antigüedad, Grupo Primeros Pobladores del Valle del Ebro (PPVE), Instituto de Investigación en Ciencias Ambientales (IUCA)Universidad de ZaragozaZaragozaSpain
  2. 2.Departamento de Geografía, Prehistoria y ArqueologíaUniversidad del País Vasco-Euskal Herriko UnibertsitateaVitoria-GasteizSpain
  3. 3.Seminari d’Estudis i Recerques Prehistòriques (SERP), Secció de Prehistòria i ArqueologiaUniversitat de BarcelonaBarcelonaSpain
  4. 4.Departamento de Prehistoria, Arqueología, Historia Antigua, Historia Medieval y Ciencias y Técnicas HistoriográficasUniversidad de MurciaMurciaSpain
  5. 5.Grupo de Investigación en Prehistoria IT-622-13 (UPV-EHU)/IKERBASQUE-Basque Foundation for ScienceVitoriaSpain
  6. 6.Department of GeologyUniversity of Cape TownCape TownSouth Africa

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