Aquatic resources in human diet in the Late Mesolithic in Northern France and Luxembourg: insights from carbon, nitrogen and sulphur isotope ratios

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Abstract

We investigated the contribution of freshwater resources to the diet of seven Late Mesolithic hunter-gatherers (ca. 5300–7000 BC) from Northern France and Luxembourg using stable isotope ratios. In addition to the carbon and nitrogen stable isotope ratios (δ13C, δ15N), we explored the potential of the sulphur isotopic ratios (δ34S) to detect and quantify the proportion of protein derived from aquatic foodstuff. In only two sites, animal remains from an associated settlement were available and subsequently examined to decipher the isotopic differential between terrestrial and freshwater resources. The quantification of their relative contribution was simulated using a Bayesian mixing model. The measurements revealed a significant overlap in δ13C values between freshwater and terrestrial resources and a large range of δ15N values for each food category. The δ34S values of the aquatic and terrestrial animals were clearly distinct at the settlement in the Seine valley, while the results on fish from Belgium demonstrated a possible overlap in δ34S values between freshwater and terrestrial resources. Local freshwater ecosystem likely contributed to ca. 30–40 % of the protein in the diet of the individuals found in the Seine settlement. Out of this context, the isotopic signature and thus contribution of the available aquatic foods was difficult to assess. Another potential source of dietary protein is wild boar. Depending on the local context, collagen δ34S values may contribute to better assessment of the relative contribution of freshwater and terrestrial resources.

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Acknowledgements

We acknowledge the financial support provided by the PCR ‘Paléolithique final et Mésolithique dans le Bassin Parisien et ses marges’ (dir. B. Valentin). The European Social Fund and the Ministry of Science, Research and Arts of Baden-Württemberg funded the current position of D.G. Drucker. The contribution of Wim Van Neer to this paper presents research results of the Interuniversity Attraction Poles Programme—Belgian Science Policy. Thanks are due to A. Bridault, M.-C. Marinval-Vigne, H. Bocherens and D. Billiou for the initial sampling of the animal remains of Noyen-sur-Seine. We are grateful to Michaël Ilett, Lamys Hachem and Bruno Robert (Trajectoires, CNRS-UMR8215) for allowing the study of Cuiry-les-Chaudardes and Berry-au-Bac. We thank Foni Le Brun-Ricalens, Laurent Brou, François Valotteau (Centre National de Recherche Archéologique, Luxembourg), Jean-Michel Guinet, Edmée Engel and Alain Faber (Musée National d’Histoire Naturelle, Luxembourg) for allowing sampling of faunal remains from the Loschbour 1 excavation. The isotopic analysis benefited from the technical support of Bernd Steinhilber, Catherine Bauer, Christoph Wißing and the team of Biogeologie (Department of Geoscience, University of Tübingen). We are grateful to Thomas Tütken and an anonymous reviewer for their valuable comments. Furthermore, we wish to thank Sophia Haller for English proofreading.

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Correspondence to Dorothée G. Drucker.

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Drucker, D.G., Valentin, F., Thevenet, C. et al. Aquatic resources in human diet in the Late Mesolithic in Northern France and Luxembourg: insights from carbon, nitrogen and sulphur isotope ratios. Archaeol Anthropol Sci 10, 351–368 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12520-016-0356-6

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Keywords

  • Mesolithic
  • Stable isotopes
  • Freshwater
  • Northern France
  • Luxembourg