The emergence of agriculture, and the associated dietary shifts, fundamentally changed how humans interacted with their environments, but the nature and timing of this process is debated. In 2019 a team of 250 scientists from across the globe published a landmark paper in Science, which synthesised current knowledge, and highlighted the early beginnings of the transformative global environmental change that is the basis of the emerging Anthropocene paradigm. This synthesis also highlighted significant gaps in our knowledge, particularly how the process varied in different parts of the world. This research will address these issues by developing an entirely new analytical approach, looking at dietary signals in human coprolites (fossilised faeces), to assess the relative contribution of animal and plant products, and cereals compared to other types of plants. Through the application of an innovative multiproxy methodology, that integrates macroscopic and microscopic analysis of contents, and lipid biomarker analysis of the ‘invisible’ residues, this project will provide a new evidence of diet in the Neolithic. We will focus on Neolithic subsistence and diet in two regions, Britain and China. These contrasting case studies reflect the expertise of the applicant and supervisor and will form the basis of future research which expands this approach to other regions. We will address a major question in Neolithic archaeology concerning the importance of cereals and how this varied in different regions within China and Britain. Our aims are to assess whether coprolites can be used to demonstrate consumption of cereals and other specific plant species, to examine how the dietary profiles of coprolites differ from thosereconstructed from other lines of evidence and to investigate the relative importance of plant and animal products in Neolithic diets.
Fields of science
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