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Strategic and sporadic marine consumption at the onset of the Neolithic: increasing temporal resolution in the isotope evidence

  • Janet Montgomery (a1), Julia Beaumont (a2), Mandy Jay (a1) (a2) (a3), Katie Keefe (a4), Andrew R. Gledhill (a2), Gordon T. Cook (a5), Stephen J. Dockrill (a2) and Nigel D. Melton (a1) (a2)...

Stable isotope analysis has provided crucial new insights into dietary change at the Neolithic transition in north-west Europe, indicating an unexpectedly sudden and radical shift from marine to terrestrial resources in coastal and island locations. Investigations of early Neolithic skeletal material from Sumburgh on Shetland, at the far-flung margins of the Neolithic world, suggest that this general pattern may mask significant subtle detail. Analysis of juvenile dentine reveals the consumption of marine foods on an occasional basis. This suggests that marine foods may have been consumed as a crucial supplementary resource in times of famine, when the newly introduced cereal crops failed to cope with the demanding climate of Shetland. This isotopic evidence is consistent with the presence of marine food debris in contemporary middens. The occasional and contingent nature of marine food consumption underlines how, even on Shetland, the shift from marine to terrestrial diet was a key element in the Neolithic transition.

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