Skip to main content Accessibility help

Stable Isotope Palaeodietary and Radiocarbon Evidence from the Early Neolithic Site of Zemunica, Dalmatia, Croatia

  • Eric Guiry (a1), Ivor Karavanić (a2) (a3), Rajna Šošić Klindžić (a2), Sahra Talamo (a4), Siniša Radović (a5) and Michael P. Richards (a1) (a4)...


The Adriatic Sea and Balkan Peninsula were an important corridor for the spread of agriculture northwards and westwards from the Near East into Europe. Therefore, the pace and nature of the Mesolithic-Neolithic transition along the Adriatic coastline has important implications for the movement of new peoples and/or ideas during one of the most eventful periods in European prehistory. We present new Early Neolithic radiocarbon and stable isotope evidence from humans and animals from the Zemunica cave site in Dalmatia, Croatia. The results show that these humans date to the earliest Neolithic in the region, and they have completely terrestrial diets, where the main protein source was most likely to have come from domesticated animals. Data are then compared to previous isotope and archaeological evidence to explore models for the spread of agriculture along the eastern Adriatic coast.

La mer Adriatique et la péninsule des Balkans jouèrent un rôle de taille dans la dissémination de l'agriculture vers le nord et l'ouest de l'Europe à partir du Proche Orient. Le caractère et la rapidité de la transition entre le Mésolithique et le Néolithique le long de la côte adriatique a donc eu des conséquences importantes pour le mouvement de nouveaux arrivants et/ou d'idées pendant la phase la plus mouvementée de la préhistoire européenne. Nous présentons ici une série de nouvelles datations radiocarbone et une analyse des isotopes stables sur la base d'ossements humains at animaux provenant de la grotte de Zemunica en Dalmatie (Croatie). Les résultats indiquent que les occupants de Zemunica appartenaient à la phase la plus ancienne du Néolithique de cette région et que leur régime alimentaire était entièrement terrestre, la source principale de protéines provenant vraisemblablement d'animaux domestiques. Enfin, en comparant les résultats obtenus à des données archéologiques et isotopiques plus anciennes, nous examinons certains modèles concernant la propagation de l'agriculture le long de la côte adriatique orientale. Translation by Madeleine Hummler

Die Adria und die Balkanhalbinsel waren bedeutende Verbindungswege für die nördliche und westliche Ausbreitung der Landwirtschaft aus dem Nahen Osten nach Europa. Die Geschwindigkeit und die Art des Übergangs vom Mesolithikum zum Neolithikum entlang der adriatischen Küste hatten erhebliche Auswirkungen auf den Verkehr von neuen Bevölkerungen und/oder Ideen in einer der ereignisreichsten Epochen der europäischen Urgeschichte. In diesem Artikel werden neue Radiokarbon Datierungen und die Ergebnisse von isotopischen Analysen von Menschen und Tiere aus der frühneolithischen Höhle von Zemunica in Dalmatien (Kroatien) vorgelegt. Es ergibt sich, dass man diese Menschen in die älteste neolithische Phase des Gebietes datieren muss und dass ihre Ernährung völlig ländlich war. Haustiere waren sehr wahrscheinlich die Hauptquelle von Proteinen. Diese Angaben werden dann mit früher erhaltenen isotopischen und archäologischen Daten verglichen um Modelle, welche die Ausbreitung der Landwirtschaft entlang der ostadriatischen Küste betreffen, zu erwägen. Translation by Madeleine Hummler



Hide All
Ambrose, S.H. 1990. Preparation and Characterization of Bone and Tooth Collagen for Isotopic Analysis. Journal of Archaeological Science, 17: 431–51.
Bass, B. 1999. Early Neolithic Offshore Accounts: Remote Islands, Maritime Exploitations, and the Trans-Adriatic Cultural Network. Journal of Mediterranean Archaeology, 11: 165–90.
Bass, B. 2004. The Maritime Expansion of Early Neolithic Agro-pastoralism in the Eastern Adriatic Sea. Atti della Società per la Preistoria e Protostoria della Regione Friuli-Venezia Giulia, 14(2003): 4560.
Bass, B. 2008. Early Neolithic Communities in Southern Dalmatia: Farming Seafarers or Seafaring Farmers? European Journal of Archaeology, 11: 245–65.
Benjamin, J., Bekić, L., Komšo, D., Uhač, I.K. & Bonsall, C. 2011. Investigating the Submerged Prehistory of the Eastern Adriatic: Progress and Prospects. In: Benjamin, J., Bonsall, C., Pickard, C. & Fischer, A., eds. Submerged Prehistory. Oxford: Oxbow, pp. 193206.
Biagi, P. 2003. A Review of the Late Mesolithic in Italy and its Implication for the Neolithic Transition. In: Ammerman, A. & Biagi, P., eds. The Widening Harvest. Oxford: Oxbow, pp. 133–56.
Bonsall, C., Mlekuž, D., Bartosiewicz, L. & Pickard, C. 2013. Early Farming Adaptations of the Northeast Adriatic Karst. In: Conolly, S.C.J., Dobney, K., Manning, K. & Shennan, S., eds. The Origins and Spread of Domestic Animals in Southwest Asia and Europe. Walnut Creek (CA): Left Coast Press, pp. 145–60.
Borojević, K., Forenbaher, S., Kaiser, T. & Berna, F. 2008. Plant Use at Grapčeva Cave and in the Eastern Adriatic Neolithic. Journal of Field Archaeology, 33: 279303.
Brock, F., Bronk Ramsey, C. & Higham, T. 2007. Quality Assurance of Ultrafiltered Bone Dating. Radiocarbon, 49: 187.
Bronk Ramsey, C. 2013. OxCal Program, Version 4.2.3 [online] [accessed 15 December 2015]. Available at:
Bronk Ramsey, C. & Lee, S. 2013. Recent and Planned Developments of the Program OxCal. Radiocarbon, 55: 720–30.
Brown, T.A., Nelson, D.E., Vogel, J.S. & Southon, J.R. 1988. Improved Collagen Extraction by Modified Longin Method. Radiocarbon, 30: 171–77.
Budja, M. 2011. Early Neolithic Pots and Potters in Western Eurasia. In: Dizdar, M., ed. Panoramski prapovijesni okviri. Zbornik radova posvećenih Korneliji Minichreiter uz 65. godišnjicu života. Zagreb: Institut za arheologiju, pp. 3167.
Chapman, J. & Müller, J. 1990. Early Farmers in the Mediterranean Basin: The Dalmatian Evidence. Antiquity, 64: 127–34.
Chisholm, B.S., Nelson, D.E. & Schwarcz, H.P. 1982. Stable-carbon Isotope Ratios as a Measure of Marine versus Terrestrial Protein in Ancient Diets. Science, 216(4550): 1131–32.
Fiedel, S.J. & Anthony, D.W. 2003. Origins of the European Neolithic as Seen from the Frontier. In: Rockman, M. & Steele, J., eds. The Colonization of Unfamiliar Landscapes: The Archaeology of Adaptation. London: Routledge, pp. 144–68.
Fischer, A., Olsen, J., Richards, M., Heinemeier, J., Sveinbjörnsdóttir, Á.E. & Bennike, P. 2007. Coast–inland Mobility and Diet in the Danish Mesolithic and Neolithic: Evidence from Stable Isotope Values of Humans and Dogs. Journal of Archaeological Science, 34: 2125–50.
Forenbaher, S. 2002. Prehistoric Populations of the Island of Hvar: An Overview of Archaeological Evidence. Collegium Antropologicum, 26: 361–78.
Forenbaher, S. & Kaiser, T. 2005. Palagruža and the Spread of Farming in the Adriatic. Opuscula Archaeologica Radovi Arheološkog zavoda, 29: 723.
Forenbaher, S. & Miracle, P. 2005. The Spread of Farming in the Eastern Adriatic. Antiquity, 79: 514–28.
Forenbaher, S. & Miracle, P. 2006. Pupićina Cave and the Spread of Farming in the Eastern Adriatic. In: Miracle, P. & Forenbaher, S., eds. Prehistoric Herders of Northern Istria: The Archaeology of Pupićina Cave. Pula: Arheološki muzej Istre, pp. 483523.
Forenbaher, S. & Miracle, P. 2014a. The Spread of Farming in the Eastern Adriatic in the Light of New Radiocarbon Dates. Diadora, 26–27: 117–33.
Forenbaher, S. & Miracle, P. 2014b. Transition to Farming in the Adriatic: A View from the Eastern Shore. In: Manen, C., Perrin, T. & Guilaine, J., eds. La transition Néolithique en Méditerranée. Arles: Actes Sud, pp. 233–40.
Forenbaher, S. & Perhoč, Z. 2015. Lithic Artifacts from Nakovana (Pelješac): Continuity and Change from Early Neolithic until the End of Prehistory. Prilozi Instituta za arheologiju u Zagrebu, 32: 574.
Forenbaher, S., Kaiser, T. & Miracle, P. 2013. Dating the East Adriatic Neolithic. European Journal of Archaeology, 16: 589609.
Guiry, E.J. & Grimes, V. 2013. Domestic Dog (Canis familiaris) Diets among Coastal Late Archaic Groups of Northeastern North America: A Case Study for the Canine Surrogacy Approach. Journal of Anthropological Archaeology, 32: 732–45.
Guiry, E.J., Hillier, M. & Richards, M.P. 2015. Mesolithic Dietary Heterogeneity on the European Atlantic Coastline: Stable Isotope Insights into Hunter-Gatherer Diet and Subsistence in the Sado Valley, Portugal. Current Anthropology, 56: 460–70.
Guiry, E.J., Hillier, M., Boaventura, R., Silva, A.M., Oosterbeek, L., Tomé, T., Valera, A., Cardoso, J.L., Hepburn, J.C. & Richards, M.P. 2016. The Transition to Agriculture in Southwestern Europe: New Isotopic Insights from Portugal's Atlantic coast. Antiquity, 90: 604–16.
Hedges, R.E., Clement, J.G., Thomas, C.D.L. & O'Connell, T.C. 2007. Collagen Turnover in the Adult Femoral Mid-shaft Modeled from Anthropogenic Radiocarbon Tracer Measurements. American Journal of Physical Anthropology, 133: 808–16.
Higham, T.F., Jacobi, R. & Bronk Ramsey, C. 2006. AMS Radiocarbon Dating of Ancient Bone Using Ultrafiltration. Radiocarbon, 48: 179.
Hofmanová, Z., Kreutzer, S., Hellenthal, G., Sell, C., Diekmann, Y., Díez-del-Molino, D., van Dorp, L., López, S., Kousathanas, A. & Link, V. 2016. Early Farmers from Across Europe Directly Descended from Neolithic Aegeans. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 113: 688691. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1523951113.
Jarvis, A., Reuter, H., Nelson, A. & Guevara, E. 2008. Hole-filled Seamless SRTM Data V4, International Centre for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) [online] [accessed 15 December 2015]. Available at:
Kaiser, T. & Forenbaher, S. 2015. Navigating the Neolithic Adriatic. In: Lillios, K.T. & Chazan, M., eds. Fresh Fields and Pastures New: Papers Presented in Honor of Andrew M.T. Moore. Leiden: Sidestone Press, pp. 145–64.
Komšo, D. 2008. The Mesolithic in Croatia. Opuscula Archaeologica Radovi Arheološkog zavoda, 30: 5592.
Kromer, B., Lindauer, S., Synal, H.-A. & Wacker, L. 2013. MAMS: A New AMS Facility at the Curt-Engelhorn-Centre for Achaeometry, Mannheim, Germany. Nuclear Instruments and Methods in Physics Research Section B: Beam Interactions with Materials and Atoms, 294: 1113.
Lee-Thorp, J.A. 2008. On Isotopes and Old Bones*. Archaeometry, 50: 925–50.
Legge, A. & Moore, A. 2011. Clutching at Straws: The Early Neolithic of Croatia and the Dispersal of Agriculture. In: Hadjikoumis, A. & Viner, S., eds. The Dynamics of Neolithisation in Europe: Studies in Honour of Andrew Sherratt. Oxford: Oxbow, pp. 176–95.
Lightfoot, E., Boneva, B., Miracle, P., Šlaus, M. & O'Connell, T.C. 2011. Exploring the Mesolithic and Neolithic Transition in Croatia through Isotopic Investigations. Antiquity, 85: 7386.
Lightfoot, E., Miracle, P., Radić, D., Šlaus, M. & O'Connell, T.C. 2010. Stable Isotope Analysis of Human Diets during the Mesolithic and Neolithic Periods at Vela Spil Cave, Korčula. Izdanja HADa, 26: 1925.
Lightfoot, E, Šlaus, M. & O'Connell, T.C. 2012. Changing Cultures, Changing Cuisines: Cultural Transitions and Dietary Change in Iron Age, Roman, and Early Medieval Croatia. American Journal of Physical Anthropology, 148: 543–56.
Longin, R. 1971. New Method of Collagen Extraction for Radiocarbon Dating. Nature, 230, 241–42 (26 March 1971); doi: 10.1038/230241a0.
Marijanović, B. 2009. Crno vrilo 1. Zadar: Sveučilište u Zadru.
McClure, S.B., Podrug, E., Moore, A.M., Culleton, B.J. & Kennett, D.J. 2014. AMS 14C Chronology and Ceramic Sequences of Early Farming in the Eastern Adriatic. Radiocarbon, 56: 1019–38.
Milošević, A. 1987. Bisko kod Sinja. Arheološki pregled, 28: 9495.
Minichreiter, K. & Krajcar Bronić, I. 2007. New Radiocarbon Dates for the Early Starčevo Culture in Croatia. Prilozi Instituta za arheologiju u Zagrebu, 23: 516.
Miracle, P. 2001. Feast or Famine? Epipalaeolithic Subsistence in the Northern Adriatic Basin. Documenta Praehistorica, 28: 177–97.
Miracle, P. & Forenbaher, S. 2005. Neolithic and Bronze-Age Herders of Pupićina Cave, Croatia. Journal of Field Archaeology, 30: 255281.
Miracle, P., Galanidou, N. & Forenbaher, S. 2000. Pioneers in the Hills: Early Mesolithic Foragers at Šebrn Abri (Istria, Croatia). European Journal of Archaeology, 3: 293329.
Paine, C., O'Connell, T. & Miracle, P. 2009. Stable Isotopic Reconstruction of Early Mesolithic Diet at Pupicina Cave. In: McCartan, S., Schulting, R., Warren, G. & Woodman, P., eds. Mesolithic Horizons. Oxford: Oxbow, pp. 210–16.
Price, T.D., Ambrose, S.H., Bennike, P., Heinemeier, J., Noe-Nygaard, N., Petersen, E.B., Petersen, P.V. & Richards, M.P. 2007. New Information on the Stone Age Graves at Dragsholm, Denmark. Acta Archaeologica, 78: 193219.
Radić, D. 2009. The Beginnings of Trans-Adriatic Navigation: A View from Vela Spila Cave (Korčula Island). In: Forenbaher, S., ed. A Connecting Sea: Maritime Interaction in Adriatic Prehistory (BAR International Series 2037). Oxford: Archaeopress, pp. 1324.
Rainsford, C., O'Connor, T. & Miracle, P. 2014. Fishing in the Adriatic at the Mesolithic–Neolithic Transition: Evidence from Vela Spila, Croatia. Environmental Archaeology, 19: 311–20.
Reed, K. 2015. From the Field to the Hearth: Plant Remains from Neolithic Croatia (c. 6000–4000 cal bc). Vegetation History and Archaeobotany, 24: 601–19.
Reimer, P.J., Bard, E., Bayliss, A., Beck, J.W., Blackwell, P.G., Bronk Ramsey, C., Buck, C.E., Cheng, H., Edwards, R.L., Friedrich, M., Grootes, P.M., Guilderson, T.P., Haflidason, H., Hajdas, I., Hatté, C., Heaton, T.J., Hoffmann, D.L., Hogg, A.G., Hughen, K. A., Kaiser, K.F., Kromer, B., Manning, S.W., Niu, M., Reimer, R.W., Richards, D.A., Scott, E.M., Southon, J.R., Staff, R.A., Turney, C.S.M. & van der Plicht, J. 2013. IntCal13 and Marine13 Radiocarbon Age Calibration Curves 0–50,000 years cal BP . Radiocarbon, 55: 1869–87.
Reuter, H.I., Nelson, A. & Jarvis, A. 2007. An Evaluation of Void-filling Interpolation Methods for SRTM Data. International Journal of Geographical Information Science, 21(9): 9831008.
Richards, M.P. & Hedges, R. 1999. A Neolithic Revolution? New Evidence of Diet in the British Neolithic. Antiquity, 73: 891–97.
Richards, M.P. & Mellars, P. 1998. Stable Isotopes and the Seasonality of the Oronsay Middens. Antiquity, 72: 178–84.
Richards, M.P., Douglas Price, T. & Koch, E. 2003. Mesolithic and Neolithic Subsistence in Denmark: New Stable Isotope Data. Current Anthropology, 44: 288–95.
Richards, M.P., Karavanić, I., Pettitt, P. & Miracle, P. 2015. Isotope and Faunal Evidence for High Levels of Freshwater Fish Consumption by Late Glacial Humans at the Late Upper Palaeolithic Site of Šandalja II, Istria, Croatia. Journal of Archaeological Science, 61: 204–12.
Richards, M.P., Pettitt, P.B., Trinkaus, E., Smith, F.H., Paunović, M. & Karavanić, I. 2000. Neanderthal Diet at Vindija and Neanderthal Predation: The Evidence from Stable Isotopes. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 97: 7663–66.
Schoeninger, M.J., DeNiro, M.J. & Tauber, H. 1983. Stable Nitrogen Isotope Ratios of Bone Collagen Reflect Marine and Terrestrial Components of Prehistoric Human Diet. Science, 220(4604): 1381–83.
Schulting, R.J. 2005. Comme la mer qui se retire: les changements dans l'exploitation des ressources marines du Mésolithique au Néolithique en Bretagne. In: Marchand, G. & Tresse, A., eds. Unité et diversité des processus de néolithisation sur la façade atlantique de l'Europe (7–4ème millénaires avant J.-C.). Paris: Société Préhistorique Française, pp. 163–71.
Schulting, R.J. 2011. Mesolithic-Neolithic Transitions: An Isotopic Tour through Europe. In: Pinhasi, R. & Stock, J. T., eds. Human Bioarchaeology of the Transition to Agriculture. Chichester: John Wiley & Sons, pp. 1541.
Schulting, R.J. & Richards, M.P. 2001. Dating Women and Becoming Farmers: New Palaeodietary and AMS Dating Evidence from the Breton Mesolithic Cemeteries of Téviec and Hoëdic. Journal of Anthropological Archaeology, 20: 314–44.
Schulting, R.J. & Richards, M.P. 2002a. Finding the Coastal Mesolithic in Southwest Britain: AMS Dates and Stable Isotope Results on Human Remains from Caldey Island, South Wales. Antiquity, 76: 1011–25.
Schulting, R.J. & Richards, M.P. 2002b. The Wet, the Wild and the Domesticated: The Mesolithic–Neolithic Transition on the West Coast of Scotland. European Journal of Archaeology, 5: 147–89.
Schulting, R.J., Fibiger, L., Macphail, R., McLaughlin, R., Murray, E., Price, C. & Walker, E.A. 2013. Mesolithic and Neolithic Human Remains from Foxhole Cave, Gower, South Wales. The Antiquaries Journal, 93: 123.
Schwartz, C. 1988. The Neolithic Animal Husbandry of Smilcic and Nin. In: Chapman, J.C., Bintliff, J., Gaffney, V. & Slapsak, B., eds. Recent Developments in Yugoslav Archaeology (BAR International Series 431). Oxford: British Archaeological Reports, pp. 4575.
Šegota, F.A. 1991. Arheološki i geološki pokazatelji holocenskog položaja razine mora na istočnoj obali Jadranskog mora. Rad Hrvatske akademije znanosti i umjetnosti, 458: 149–72.
Smith, D., Gaffney, V., Grossman, D., Howard, A.J., Milošević, A., Ostir, K., Podobnikar, T., Smith, W., Tetlow, E., Tingle, M. & Tinsley, H. 2006. Assessing the Later Prehistoric Environmental Archaeology and Landscape Development of the Cetina Valley, Croatia. Environmental Archaeology, 11: 171–86.
Šošić Klindžić, R.Š., Radović, S., Težak-Gregl, T., Šlaus, M., Perhoč, Z., Altherr, R., Hulina, M., Gerometta, K., Boschian, G. & Vukosavljević, N. 2015. Late Upper Paleolithic, Early Mesolithic and Early Neolithic from the Cave Site Zemunica near Bisko (Dalmatia, Croatia). Eurasian Prehistory, 12: 346.
Szpak, P. 2014. Complexities of Nitrogen Isotope Biogeochemistry in Plant-Soil Systems: Implications for the Study of Ancient Agricultural and Animal Management Practices. Frontiers in Plant Science, 5: 119.
Szpak, P., Orchard, T.J., McKechnie, I. & Gröcke, D.R. 2012. Historical Ecology of Late Holocene Sea Otters (Enhydra lutris) from Northern British Columbia: Isotopic and Zooarchaeological Perspectives. Journal of Archaeological Science, 39: 1553–71.
Talamo, S. & Richards, M. 2011. A Comparison of Bone Pretreatment Methods for AMS Dating of Samples >30,000 BP . Radiocarbon, 53: 443–49.
Tauber, H. 1981. 13C Evidence for Dietary Habits of Prehistoric Man in Denmark. Nature, 292: 332–33 (23 July 1981); doi:10.1038/292332a0.
Tauber, H. 1986. Analysis of Stable Isotopes in Prehistoric Populations. Mitteilungen der Berliner Gesellschaft für Anthropologie, Ethnologie und Urgeschichte, 7: 3138.
Tringham, R. 2000. Southeastern Europe in the Transition to Agriculture in Europe: Bridge, Buffer, or Mosaic. In: Price, T.D., ed. Europe's First Farmers. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 1956.
van Andel, T.H. 1990. Addendum to ‘Late Quaternary Sea-level Changes and Archaeology’. Antiquity, 64: 151–52.
Van Klinken, G.J. 1999. Bone Collagen Quality Indicators for Palaeodietary and Radiocarbon Measurements. Journal of Archaeological Science, 26: 687–95.
Ward, G.K. & Wilson, S. 1978. Procedures for Comparing and Combining Radiocarbon Age Determinations: A Critique. Archaeometry, 20: 1931.
Woodman, P. 2009. Ireland's Place in the European Mesolithic: Why it's OK to be Different. In: McCartan, S., Schulting, R., Warren, G. & Woodman, P., eds. Mesolithic Horizons. Oxford: Oxbow, pp. 3446.
Zavodny, E., McClure, S.B., Culleton, B.J., Podrug, E. & Kennett, D.J. 2014. Neolithic Animal Management Practices and Stable Isotope Studies in the Adriatic. Environmental Archaeology, 19: 184–95.
Zilhão, J. 2001. Radiocarbon Evidence for Maritime Pioneer Colonization at the Origins of Farming in West Mediterranean Europe. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 98: 14180–85.
Zvelebil, M. & Lillie, M. 2000. Transition to Agriculture in Eastern Europe. In: Price, T.D., ed. Europe's First Farmers. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press: pp. 5792.



Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed