Ancient History

12000

BCE

We were testing the hypothesis that these humans had a mainly hunting economy, and therefore a diet high in animal protein. We found this to be the case, and by comparing the human δ15N values with those of contemporary fauna, we conclude that the protein sources in human diets at these sites came mainly from herbivores such as Bos sp. and Cervus elaphus

FOCUS: Gough’s Cave and Sun Hole Cave Human Stable Isotope Values Indicate a High Animal Protein Diet in the British Upper Palaeolithic

We undertook stable isotope analysis of Upper Palaeolithic humans and fauna from the sites of Gough's Cave and Sun Hole Cave, Somerset, U.K., for palaeodietary reconstruction. We were testing the hypothesis that these humans had a mainly hunting economy, and therefore a diet high in animal protein. We found this to be the case, and by comparing the human δ15N values with those of contemporary fauna, we conclude that the protein sources in human diets at these sites came mainly from herbivores such as Bos sp. and Cervus elaphus. There are a large number ofEquus sp. faunal remains from this site, but this species was not a significant food resource in the diets of these Upper Palaeolithic humans.


If the humans hunted and consumed mainly horse, then their 15N values should be c. 3–5‰ (Equus 15N value of 0·7‰+enrichment of 2–4‰). Instead, their 15N values make more sense if they lived mostly off Bos and Cervus elaphus (Bos and Cervus values of c. 3‰+enrichment of 2–4‰=the observed values c. 6–7‰). It is also possible that other species, including Rangifer tarandus, were consumed by these individuals. Rangifer tarandus has 15N values similar to Cervus elaphus (Richards, 1998), and has more positive 13C values, which may explain the observed slight enrichment in the human 13C values. A number of artefacts made from Rangifer tarandus have been found at Gough’s, but there is no other evidence that this species was being exploited for food

Cheddar Reservoir, Cheddar BS26, UK

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