Investigating prehistoric diet and lifeways of early farmers in central northern Spain (3000–1500 CAL BC) using stable isotope techniques

Abstract

This work focuses on reconstructing past diets and animal management during Prehistory in Central Northern Spain, spanning the NE area of the Old Castilian Plateau to the Cantabrian coast, from c. 3000–1500 BCE. During this time, early farming communities made changes in their models of production and social reproduction that crystallised in the emergence of social complexity. To investigate these changes, we reconstructed the past diet of these early farming populations by using stable isotope analysis (δ13C, δ15N, δ34S) of human and animal remains from the recently excavated sites of Abrigo de la Castañera in Cantabria and Arroyal I, El Hornazo, Fuente Celada and Ferrocarril-La Dehesa in Burgos. The human remains derived from a range of burial contexts including pit graves, megalithic monuments and burial caves. To provide initial insights into animal management during this timeframe, associated faunal remains were also studied as a baseline. In total, 52 samples were analysed, including 17 human burials and 35 animal specimens (cattle, sheep, pig, red deer and dog). Results show that humans in these sites consumed relatively similar diets, comprising of a predominantly C3 diet including animal protein. Animal management patterns indicate a wider use of the landscape for herbivore grazing. The differing diets of dogs at El Hornazo provide insights into the relationship that they had with humans and tentatively suggests differences in the diet of working animals versus household pets. The δ34S values of two individuals from Arroyal I indicate that they came from different regions, implying a level of inland mobility during the Chalcolithic.

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Acknowledgements

The authors would like to thank Ignacio Valera (IBBTEC, University of Cantabria) for his help and support in setting up the collagen extraction protocol and for allowing us to use his laboratory facilities. Thank you also to Carlos Revilla Gómez (IBBTEC, University of Cantabria) for his laboratory assistance. Lucía Agudo Pérez (IIIPC, University of Cantabria) provided invaluable technical support during sampling and sample preparation. The authors would like to thank Marta Negro Cobo, director of the Museum of Burgos for allowing us to sample the remains from El Hornazo and Fuente Celada and for facilitating access to the collections.

Funding

This research was funded by the Santander Bank Programme Talent Attraction for Research - STAR1 at the University of Cantabria (2017-2020) to ABMA.

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Jones, J.R., Maeso, C.V., Ballestero, E.C. et al. Investigating prehistoric diet and lifeways of early farmers in central northern Spain (3000–1500 CAL BC) using stable isotope techniques. Archaeol Anthropol Sci 11, 3979–3994 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12520-019-00841-4

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Keywords

  • Diet
  • Stable isotopes
  • Spain
  • Prehistory
  • Neolithic
  • Chalcolithic
  • Animal management
  • Bronze age