Zooarchaeology

During the spread of Neolithic from the Near East to Europe, domestic animals were brought into new environments which differed from their natural ecological niches, probably forcing herders to adapt their herding strategies (for instance, in terms of reproduction and diet) to ensure livestock survival and food production. Such adaptations can be investigated through stable isotope analyses of serial enamel samples. Dental enamel is an incremental tissue that, once fully mineralized, is not remodelled. During tooth growth, which spans from several months over a year in cattle, caprines and ovines, the seasonal variations of carbon (δ13C) and oxygen (δ18O) isotope compositions are preserved. As the chronology of tooth growth is well-known in these taxa, isotopic events can be linked to the animal’s age.

A sequential sampling performed along the tooth growth axis enables us to investigate the seasonal rhythms of past herding practices. At high and mid latitudes, the δ18O value of meteoric water reflects the seasonal variations of temperatures. As the δ18O sequences measured in enamel bioapatite are indirectly linked to meteoric water δ18O, it is possible to address birth seasonality of livestock (Balasse et al., 2003; Henton et al., 2010; Balasse et al., 2012b) and thus to infer the seasonal availability in tender meat and milk (Blaise et Balasse, 2011; Towers et al., 2011), the latter being proposed as a way to reveal milk-oriented husbandry. The comparison of the δ13C signal with the δ18O sequence measured in a same tooth permits to detect any seasonal change in diet, including the contribution of leafs or C4 plants as fodder (Balasse et al., 2012a; Balasse et al., 2013), enlightening on the existence of more intensive herding practices.

In the frame of this project, enamel bioapatite in the lower molars of four domestic species (cattle, sheep, goat and pig) from three representative Early Neolithic faunal assemblages (Nova Nadezhda, Blagotin and Alsónyék) will be sequentially sampled. The aim is to address birth and diet at a seasonal scale as indicators for adaptations of herd management strategies to environmental constraints to meet the physiological requirements of domestic animals as well as human nutritional needs.

Researchers: Marie Balasse and Delphine  Frémondeau