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Diet and subsistence in Bronze Age pastoral communities from the southern Russian steppes and the North Caucasus

Knipper, Corina and Reinhold, Sabine and Gresky, Julia and Berezina, Nataliya and Gerling, Claudia and Pichler, Sandra L. and Buzhilova, Alexandra P. and Kantorovich, Anatoly R. and Maslov, Vladimir E. and Petrenko, Vladimira G. and Lyakhov, Sergey V. and Kalmykov, Alexey A. and Belinskiy, Andrey B. and Hansen, Svend and Alt, Kurt W.. (2020) Diet and subsistence in Bronze Age pastoral communities from the southern Russian steppes and the North Caucasus. PLoS ONE, 15 (10). e0239861.

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Abstract

The flanks of the Caucasus Mountains and the steppe landscape to their north offered highly productive grasslands for Bronze Age herders and their flocks of sheep, goat, and cattle. While the archaeological evidence points to a largely pastoral lifestyle, knowledge regarding the general composition of human diets and their variation across landscapes and during the different phases of the Bronze Age is still restricted. Human and animal skeletal remains from the burial mounds that dominate the archaeological landscape and their stable isotope compositions are major sources of dietary information. Here, we present stable carbon and nitrogen isotope data of bone collagen of 105 human and 50 animal individuals from the 5th millennium BC to the Sarmatian period, with a strong focus on the Bronze Age and its cultural units including Maykop, Yamnaya, Novotitorovskaya, North Caucasian, Catacomb, post-Catacomb and late Bronze Age groups. The samples comprise all inhumations with sufficient bone preservation from five burial mound sites and a flat grave cemetery as well as subsamples from three further sites. They represent the Caucasus Mountains in the south, the piedmont zone and Kuban steppe with humid steppe and forest vegetation to its north, and more arid regions in the Caspian steppe. The stable isotope compositions of the bone collagen of humans and animals varied across the study area and reflect regional diversity in environmental conditions and diets. The data agree with meat, milk, and/or dairy products from domesticated herbivores, especially from sheep and goats having contributed substantially to human diets, as it is common for a largely pastoral economy. This observation is also in correspondence with the faunal remains observed in the graves and offerings of animals in the mound shells. In addition, foodstuffs with elevated carbon and nitrogen isotope values, such as meat of unweaned animals, fish, or plants, also contributed to human diets, especially among communities living in the more arid landscapes. The regional distinction of the animal and human data with few outliers points to mobility radii that were largely concentrated within the environmental zones in which the respective sites are located. In general, dietary variation among the cultural entities as well as regarding age, sex and archaeologically indicated social status is only weakly reflected. There is, however, some indication for a dietary shift during the Early Bronze Age Maykop period.
Faculties and Departments:05 Faculty of Science > Departement Umweltwissenschaften > Integrative Biologie > Integrative Prähistorische und Naturwissenschaftliche Archäologie (IPNA)
UniBasel Contributors:Pichler, Sandra L and Gerling, Claudia and Alt, Kurt W.
Item Type:Article, refereed
Article Subtype:Research Article
Publisher:Public Library of Science
e-ISSN:1932-6203
Note:Publication type according to Uni Basel Research Database: Journal article
Language:English
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Last Modified:19 Oct 2020 08:27
Deposited On:19 Oct 2020 08:27

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