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The diet of settled Neolithic farmers of east-central Europe: isotopic and dental microwear evidence

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This study reconstructs Middle and Late Neolithic dietary practices in the area of the today Czech Republic and Lower Austria with a help of complementary evidence of stable isotope and dental microwear analysis. From a total of 171 humans, carbon and nitrogen isotopic values were measured in bone collagen of 146 individuals (accompanied by 64 animals) while 113 individuals were included into buccal dental microwear analysis. The samples were divided into two newly established chronological phases: Neolithic B (4900–4000 BC) and Neolithic C (3800–3400 BC) based on radiocarbon data modelling. Isotopic results show that the Neolithic diet was of terrestrial origin with a dominant plant component. A small but statistically significant shift in human carbon isotopic values to a higher δ13C was observed during the Neolithic C, probably reflecting an underlying change in plant growing conditions. Dental microwear results suggest a shift in adult diet and/or food preparation techniques between the Neolithic B and C, which, however, was not reflected in either the carbon or nitrogen isotopic values. The positive correlations between nitrogen isotopic values and the dental microwear variables (NV, XV, XT and NV/NT) observed in the adult sample suggest that meat rather than milk was the dominant source of animal protein, or that food enriched in 15N was processed specifically. Also, as both methods offer a snapshot of different periods of an individual’s life, the presence of a significant correlation may imply highly repetitive dietary behaviour during their lifetime.

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The authors declare that the data supporting the findings of this study are available within the article and its supplementary information files.


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We thank David Gaul for the English language editing. Many thanks are due to Lenka Kovačiková and Gabriela Dreslerová for species determination of animal bones. We are also grateful to researchers who provided anthropological and zooarchaeological material or valuable advice: Petra Beran-Cimbůrková, Zdeněk Beneš, Hana Brzobohatá, Pavel Burgert, Lukáš Hlubek, Jiří Kala, Petr Kos, Marek Lečbych, Kerstin Liden, David Parma, Michal Přichystal, Klára Rybářová, Petr Stadler, Jitka Stříšková, Lukáš Šín, Miroslav Šmíd, Peter Tóth, Karin Wiltschke-Schrota.


This study was supported financially by Czech Science Foundation (“Lifestyle as an unintentional identity in the Neolithic”. Project Id: 19-16304S) and Ministry of Culture of the Czech Republic (DKRVO 2019–2023/7.I.e, 00023272). OP RDE, MEYS, under the project “Ultra-trace isotope research in social and environmental studies using accelerator mass spectrometry”, Reg. No. CZ.02.1.01/0.0/0.0/16_019/0000728.

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All authors contributed to the study conception and design. Material preparation were performed by František Trampota, Jaroslav Řídký, Christine Neugebauer-Maresch and Petr Květina. Data collection and analysis were performed by Sylva Drtikolová Kaupová, Jarmila Bíšková, Ivana Jarošová, Dalia A. Pokutta, Zdeněk Tvrdý, Zdeněk Vytlačil, Václav Hrnčíř and František Trampota. The first draft of the manuscript was written by Sylva Drtikolová Kaupová and all authors commented on previous versions of the manuscript. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.

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Correspondence to Sylva Drtikolová Kaupová.

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Drtikolová Kaupová, S., Jarošová, I., Bíšková, J. et al. The diet of settled Neolithic farmers of east-central Europe: isotopic and dental microwear evidence. Archaeol Anthropol Sci 15, 21 (2023).

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