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Stable isotope ecology of hunter-gatherers in Italy in the late Pleistocene and the Early Holocene


In recent years, the ratios of isotopes of a number of different chemical elements (carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, sulphur, strontium and lead) have been measured on animal and human skeletal materials to gain information on past climate, ecology and diet. Areas such as Italy have rarely been the object of isotopic studies, despite the potential offered by its well-preserved prehistoric skeletal assemblages from a large number of archaeological sites, spanning periods of important environmental change, such as between the Late-glacial and the Early Holocene. As part of the proposed project, isotope analyses will be undertaken on the animal remains from Upper Palaeolithic and Mesolithic cave sites in Italy to gain information on human ecology in Mediterranean terrestrial environments at the end of the Pleistocene and in the early to mid-Holocene prior to the adoption of agriculture in the Neolithic. Oxygen, carbon and nitrogen isotope data from animal bones and teeth will be used to reconstruct past climates and vegetation. A suite of isotopes (oxygen, sulphur, strontium and lead) will be analysed in both animal and human bones to determine patterns of past migration, either within restricted territories or between different regions. Carbon and nitrogen isotopes in animal bones will be used to reconstruct food webs for different regions within Italy, for the cultural periods of interest to the project. These isotope analyses will also be undertaken on human bones and teeth to reconstruct regional variations in human diets and in adaptations to changing environments. The main methodological aim of the project is to investigate how multi-isotope approaches can help in reconstructing the human terrestrial ecology of past environments, in particular environments that have no analogues at the present day.

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Hofgartenstrasse 8
80539 Munchen
Activity type
Research Organisations
EU contribution
€ 166 982,27
Administrative Contact
Michael Phillip Richards (Prof.)