Seaweed-eating sheep and crop fertilisation trials on the Orkney Islands, Scotland

Magdalena Blanz, Vienna Institute for Archaeological Science (VIAS)

Seaweed consumption

In modern Europe, for most the idea of eating seaweed may seem strange. Outside of sushi, and memories of beach holidays where rotting algae spoiled the fun, most people today have no particular connection to seaweed. It may therefore come as a surprise that a fellow mammal, namely sheep (Ovis aries), can subsist nearly exclusively on seaweed. The most well-known breed of seaweed-eating sheep today are located on North Ronaldsay, the northernmost island of the Scottish Orkney archipelago. Elevated sheep δ13C values attributable to seaweed consumption were common in Neolithic Orkney as well, as the last two decades of archaeological research have shown (cf. Balasse et al. 2019, 2005 for a review).

Seaweed-eating sheep on North Ronaldsay. Picture by Jasmijn Sybenga.

Since the interpretation of archaeological data relies on modern comparative data to gain an understanding of what individual values mean in the archaeological context, analyses of modern material are required. Our study, recently published in the Journal of Archaeological Science, was conceived to collect further modern baseline δ13C and δ15N data for seaweed, terrestrial vegetation, and sheep bone collagen on the Orkney Islands. The results showed extremes of −10.7‰ for δ13C and +10.4‰ δ15N for modern seaweed-eating sheep bone collagen, and a δ13C average of −17.4 ± 1.4‰ for the analysed seaweeds (n = 20; mostly kelps). This modern dataset will help with future identification of seaweed-consumption, and allows an improved assessment in archaeological contexts of how much seaweed was likely consumed when the analysed bone formed.

Seaweed fertilisation

In addition to the consumption of seaweed, the use of seaweed as a fertiliser for terrestrial crops has also been suggested to influence consumer δ13C and δ15N values. To test this, we performed a field trial on Orkney where we fertilised bere barley (a six-row, hulled barley landrace) with seaweed. We followed traditional, historically attested practices with respect to the time and amount of fertilisation, but used a tractor for power-harrowing, sowing and rolling to reduce the still considerable amount of manual labour.

Fertilisation of 3 m × 3 m plots with seaweed (top left) and growth and harvest of the seaweed-fertilised bere barley. Pictures by Peter Martin, John Wishart and Magdalena Blanz.

Isotope ratio analysis showed significant elevation in δ15N values for seaweed-fertilised barley compared to barley from unfertilised control plots, but no significant difference in δ13C. This can be explained by the differing sources of carbon and nitrogen: Since barley takes up nitrogen from the soil (as nitrate, NO3, and ammonium, NH4+), the change in δ15N values upon fertilisation is due to the elevated δ15N values in the seaweed compared to the bioaccessible nitrogen in the unfertilised soil. In contrast, the lack of any major effects of seaweed fertilisation on δ13C is due to barley taking up most carbon by photosynthesis from the air (as carbon dioxide, CO2): Carbon stemming from the fertilisation at the roots has little likelihood of being taken up by the plant.

These results show that fertilisation of terrestrial crops with seaweed does not lead to these crops having more “marine” δ13C values, but that, similar to fertilisation with animal dung, δ15N values are affected by seaweed fertilisation. Further detail on the seaweed fertilisation field trial is available in Blanz et al., 2019 and Brown et al., 2020.


This research was undertaken as part of my PhD (2016-2020) at the Archaeology Institute, Orkney, supervised by Ingrid Mainland, Philippa Ascough, Mark Taggart and Jörg Feldmann. It was funded by the European Social Fund and Scottish Funding Council as part of Developing Scotland’s Workforce in the Scotland 2014–2020 European Structural and Investment Fund Programme.

Lab Experience during a Pandemic

Adam Andrews, Department of Biological, Geological, and Environmental Sciences, University of Bologna, Italy

Rachel Winter, Groningen Institute of Archaeology, University of Groningen, Netherlands

Willemien de Kock, Groningen Institute of Archaeology and Groningen Institute of Evolutionary Life Sciences, University of Groningen, Netherlands

SeaChanges project

SeaChanges (2019-2023) is a MSCA-multidisciplinary international training network of 15 PhD projects exploring long-term perspectives on the exploitation of marine vertebrates by integrating archaeology and marine biology. As a part of the training provided by the network, students undertake research secondments. Here we provide an account of our experiences at the University of York (UK) to complete collagen extraction and stable isotope analysis to contribute to our projects. 

To briefly acquaint you with our projects, small summaries are provided below.

ESR 12 – Adam Andrews, University of Bologna, Italy. I am investigating adaptation in Atlantic bluefin tuna (Thunnus thynnus) throughout the last 6000 years in the Mediterranean and Black Sea. I combine genomics, isotopes, and morphological analyses to understand how adaptable this species was/is and how resilient it remains now which may allow us to predict how it may respond to future change. 

ESR 13 – Rachel Winter, I am based at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands and am combining traditional zooarchaeology (NISP, osteometrics) with biomolecular archaeology (proteomics, stable isotope analysis) and marine ecology to understand the exploitation of groupers (Epinephelus spp.) in the Levant from the Bronze Age through the Hellenistic period. 

ESR 14 – Willemien de Kock, also based at the University of Groningen I study the foraging ecology and genetic connectivity of ancient green turtles (Chelonia mydas) along the Levant. Sea turtle bones are found at various archaeological sites, but my research focuses on remains from Kinet Höyük (Turkey), Tell Fadous-Kfarabida, and Tell el-Burak (both in Lebanon).

Lab Experience during COVID

Conducting lab work during a pandemic is certainly a peculiar experience.

It was a trip that was stressful before it began; for the Groningen delegation it meant traveling despite the government advice. We discussed the most responsible route and decided to cross the North Sea by ferry from Rotterdam to Hull. Sea turtles are always complicated to send across borders as they are endangered and listed on CITES, even old bones require proof that they existed before the animal was added to the CITES convention (a condition which we satisfy by several thousand years!). Willemien managed to courier them to York just before Brexit officially kicked in on the 1st of January 2021 saving her from more paperwork, phew! Rachel however crossed the sea with extra luggage consisting of ancient Mediterranean fish (none are on the CITES list!), it’s a glamorous life.

Due to the pandemic, acquiring samples has been predictably challenging. Closures to museums and institutions responsible for granting permission to destructively sample these materials, has resulted in delays to this project where only a subset of samples have been analysed to date. Fortunately, bluefin tuna are not listed on CITES which would have complicated matters further. 

Upon arrival into the UK, there were mandatory quarantine periods accompanied by the stress of hoping the courier finds the house and picks up our at home COVID tests, waiting for those results (negative, thankfully!), and then being permitted to arrange starting lab work. Once lab work commenced with regularity there are new considerations to going into the lab versus in non-covid times. For example, having to complete all of your training with colleagues at least 2 metres away and only being permitted a finite number of people in a space at any given time. To orchestrate all of this and ensure necessary precautions were taken, this further involved signing up on booking sheets for time slots in lab spaces, getting tested for covid twice a week, and when space was limited, working in slightly atypical spaces (casting sidelong looks to the zooarchaeology laboratory).

Of course, for one of us (the Englishman), quarantine was a relaxing (and merry) stint at home over the Christmas break.

Whilst we could access lab space and prepare samples for isotopic analysis, the experience was (not shockingly) simply incomparable with pre-pandemic times. Despite this, we still shared jokes in the lab that lightened the mood and made us feel very welcome and positive about the research. Even with so few colleagues around, we were very well supported when teething problems in new protocols/equipment arose and are grateful to everyone in BioArch at the University of York for enabling us to complete our lab work as planned.

Adam, Rachel and Willemein in York BioArch lab

The three of us managed to extract collagen from an impressive number of samples (nearly 500 in total) and we were lucky that the York BioArch crew were so patient with us especially when we were using ALL of the test tubes. There was not much else to do except work, but eventually that played to our advantage when we saw the collagen come out of the freeze-drier looking exactly like cotton-candy – admittedly not as sweet but just as satisfying.

Stay tuned for the results coming to a journal near you!

Contribution of food residues preserved in archaeological ceramics to the understanding of animal husbandry.

Emmanuelle Casanova

Organic Geochemistry Unit, University of Bristol and soon to be a MSCA IF fellow at APPSPE, MNHN, Paris.

Food residues in ancient ceramics

Pottery vessels appeared during the Neolithic and were used extensively to store, transport, cook and process food. During cooking, grease from the food migrates into the vessel walls and survive there through the ages, either complete or in a degraded form. These lipidic residues can be recovered and analysed at the molecular level. Based on the presence of specific molecules, called biomarkers, and their distribution, the source of food that was processed in the vessels is identifiable. Lipid residues from animal products are by far the most common residues recovered in the ceramics but it is also possible to find evidence of beeswax, plants, vegetables and even cereals.

Animal fats survive in the archaeological context in a hydrolysed from with the palmitic and stearic acids as the two major compounds. Measuring the stable carbon isotope values (δ13C) of these individual fatty acids allows to identify whether the fats came from non-ruminant, ruminant animals, and aquatic sources. This method is particularly interesting to highlight the exploitation of the dairy products of domesticated animals. It is, nonetheless, not species-specific and correlation of lipid data with the faunal records allows for further understanding about the source of animal fats cooked and processed in ceramics.

Example of Neolithic pottery from the Linearbankeramik of the Upper-Alsace analysed for its absorbed lipid residues.

The example of Alsatian Neolithic

I studied the region of Alsace for my PhD project, a part of the NeoMilk project. During the Neolithic, two sub-groups of the Linearbandkeramik culture originating from two separate migration waves settled following the modern border of Lower and Upper Alsace. Faunal remains were dominated by domesticated animals (>96%) particularly cattle, then pig and caprines (sheep/goat). The number of identified specimens in an assemblage can be weighted for the meat available per animal (i.e. if a caprine is 1 unit, a pig is 3.3 units and a cow 7.3 units for Neolithic animal) for the data to be comparable to the abundance of lipid sources in the ceramics. A noticeable difference from the faunal remains in the two groups is the availability of pig meat being ~30% in Lower Alsace but ~5% in the Upper Alsace.

A. Map of the Alsace region showing the boundary between the Lower and Upper Alsace and the sites selected for lipid residue analyses. B. Pottery with decorative motifs representative of successive LBK phases of the regional groups in Alsace and relative chronology (Lefranc, 2007).

Ruminant meat and milk were extensively processed in pottery vessels of the Upper Alsace, while non-ruminant products were scarce. On the contrary, in the Lower-Alsace both non-ruminant and ruminant meat dominate the residues in the ceramics, while dairy products were scarce. The results support that the two contemporaneous sub-groups of the Linearbandkeramik exploiting their herds differently with a particular focus on ruminant products, including dairy in the Upper Alsace.

Typical meat weight of the faunal remains for Linearbandkeramik groups of the Lower Alsace and Upper Alsace and results of compound-specific stable carbon isotope analyses on fatty acids extracted from pottery vessels

Direct radiocarbon dating of food residues: what can it tell us?

Radiocarbon dating is a key technique used to resolve the chronology of archaeological sites. I developed during my PhD and postdoc a method for directly dating ceramics from their preserved animal fats as a compound-specific approach. Among other applications, it permits to resolve the antiquity specific food commodities such as ruminant dairy by directly dating the commodity. I have applied this method to the dating of ruminant dairy residues in several regions of Europe and North Africa but also to the dating of equine products in Central Asia.

The method is particularly interesting at sites where evidence for the exploitation of a specific food commodity is scarce or unsupported by other archaeological and archaeozoological evidence. For instance, I applied the method to the radiocarbon dating of dairy residues from ceramics associated with hunter-gatherers of the Lesotho groups of 1st Millennium AD. The presence of dairy residues and their age compatible with the hunter-gatherer groups provided evidence of their access to domesticated animals, a parameter which was debated based on the morphological and ancient DNA analyses of the faunal assemblage.

These studies demonstrate the potential for organic residue analysis to enhance our understanding of past human-animal interactions. My new project, VARGAH, funded as part of the MSCA-IF will start in June hosted by Dr Marjan Maskhour at the AAPSPE, MNHN (Paris, France), uncovering the economy and chronology of early sendentary and mobile pastoralists in Iran.

My PhD was funded by the NeoMilk project (ERC-advanced grant awarded to Prof. Richard Evershed), subsquently followed by a post-doc funded by a ERC proof of concept project (LipDat awarded to Prof. Richard Evershed).

Intra-individual Sequential Carbon and Oxygen Isotope Analyses of Neolithic Livestock for Assessing the Early Husbandry Strategies in the Southern Caucasus

Masato Hirose

Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences at Nagoya University

By sequential sampling and analyzing tooth enamel, we can read the seasonal variations in stable isotope ratios recorded in teeth. Seasonal variations in the stable carbon (δ13C) and oxygen (δ18O) isotopes can be used to infer what the individual consumed, where, and in what season. In other words, this method is suitable for studying the husbandry strategies from livestock remains. However, in the analysis of an isolated tooth, the term of the obtained variation would be short, and difficult to capture the feature of the variation. Analyzing two teeth per individual can provide long-term variation, although this requires the use of well-preserved archaeological materials.

Excavations at Göytepe (Photo: Dr. Seiji Kadowaki)

In our new study, we used this intra-individual sequential isotope analysis with M2 and M3 teeth per individual as far as possible to investigate early husbandry strategies in the southern Caucasus. We analyzed the mandibular tooth enamel of goats, sheep, and cattle (only isolated teeth) from the Neolithic settlements, Göytepe (ca. 5650–5460 cal BC) and Hacı Elamxanlı Tepe (ca. 5950–5800 cal BC) located in western Azerbaijan. As reference samples, we also analyzed modern goat and sheep individuals that are known to have grazed in the vicinity of the sites.

Map of the southern Caucasus, showing the location of Göytepe, Hacı Elamxanlı Tepe, and other main Neolithic sites belonging to the Shomutepe-Shulaveri culture. The locations of the obsidian sources are only those where the use of the obsidian was recognized in Göytepe materials (Nishiaki et al., 2019).

In this region, the first full-fledged Neolithic agro-pastoral economy called the Shomutepe-Shulaveri culture, emerged suddenly around 6000 cal BC. Despite their geographical closeness to each other, this is about 2000 to 3000 years later than the emergence of agro-pastoral practices in the Fertile Crescent. It is important to study the delay in this phenomenon in detail in order to understand the process of diffusion of agro-pastoral economy in human society. Therefore, in this study, we focused on how early agro-pastoral economy was practiced in this region under the peculiar environmental conditions colder in winter, adjacent to mountainous regions, that are uncommon in the Fertile Crescent. Livestock management regarding mobility and migration is a key aspect in understanding agro-pastoral societies. Therefore, we attempted to provide isotopic evidence indicative of early husbandry practices in the southern Caucasus.

Sequential stable carbon and oxygen isotope values of the Neolithic livestock from Göytepe.

The obtained data showed several different patterns that may be explained by different modes of husbandry practices:

  1. Some of the goats and sheep exhibit large amplitudes in δ13C and δ18O variations (see figure above: part a). This was interpreted as a lowland pasturing pattern because the modern goat and sheep showed the same pattern.
  2. A Neolithic goat and three Neolithic cattle samples exhibited relatively small amplitudes and/or inverse cyclical variation patterns (figure b and d). While these patterns may have been caused by multiple factors, such as drinking water and food/fodder, vertical transhumance has also been proposed to result in the similar isotope patterns (e.g., Henton et al., 2010; Tornero et al., 2016). If animals experience seasonal vertical transhumance between lowlands in winter and highlands in summer, it is expected that the δ13C fluctuation range reduces. In addition, the δ13C value of C4 plant feeders is presumed to decrease if they spend summer in highlands where C4 plants are less.
  3. Some individuals illustrated a pattern with a larger amplitude of δ18O seasonal variations but a smaller amplitude of δ13C variations (c). It is likely that some factor reduced the variation of δ13C. We proposed a possibility of the use of fodder (C3 plants) collected in a short term and given to livestock thus dampening the seasonal variation in δ13C.

The factors contributing to the patterns of isotopic variation presented in our study may not be limited to transhumance or the use of fodder but are consistent with such possibilities. To verify these hypotheses, other analytical methods, such as strontium isotope analysis, are required to specify pasturing places in different seasons on the basis of a local and regional isoscape. In any case, at least, these various sequential isotopic patterns suggest that a variety of livestock breeding strategies were already adopted by Neolithic inhabitants in the southern Caucasus. Thus, long-term sequential isotope data from plural teeth per individual would provide us more specific seasonal variation patterns.

This research derives from the Azerbaijani-Japanese Archaeological Mission directed by Prof. Yoshihiro Nishiaki (The University of Tokyo) and Dr. Farhad Guliyev (The National Academy of Science, Azerbaijan). The financial support for this study was provided by the JSPS KAKENHI (No. 17H04534), the MEXT KAKENHI (No. 16H06408 and 20H00026), and The Takanashi Foundation for Historical Science.

Current Methods and Best Practices in Strontium Isotope Mapping

Emily Holt, Jane A. Evans, and Richard Madgwick

Drawing on variations in bioavailable strontium in different environments to provenance biological materials has become increasingly common since its first application in archaeology almost four decades ago, and it is frequently applied to zooarchaeological materials. Provenancing biological materials, including faunal remains, using strontium isotope ratios generally requires a map of bioavailable strontium, commonly known as an isoscape, to compare results with. However, both producing the isoscape and using it to interpret results present methodological challenges that researchers must carefully consider.

To help researchers understand the complexities of strontium analysis, we reviewed current research to produce a critical synthesis and recommend best practices. We addressed sampling the archives needed to build an isoscape, applying the different mapping and modeling methods currently available, and interpreting the results of archaeological analyses against isoscapes. Our critical review is freely available to read and download from Earth-Science Reviews until May 8, 2021

Sampling

Current research indicates that, while many archives can be analyzed to produce isoscapes, modern plant materials usually provide the best approximation of bioavailable strontium. Modern plants can be used alone or combined with other archives if applying a machine learning approach to mapping. In areas where erosion has significantly shifted the location of surface sediments, modern plants may not provide an appropriate archive for building an isoscape that is applicable to archaeological materials. In these areas, alternative archives such as archaeological rodent remains may be preferable. Archaeologists should also be aware that contemporary soil treatments like fertilizers may affect the bioavailable strontium in soils. Areas used for agriculture should be avoided when sampling.

Strontium pathways (adapted from Bataille et al. 2020, Fig. 1)

It is essential to collect appropriate metadata when sampling. Collecting metadata improves the legacy benefits of strontium data by making them more broadly applicable. These metadata and the results of the analyses should be archived in one of several online databases to maximize their usefulness.

Mapping and modeling

We found that domain mapping currently produces the most accurate, most interpretable isoscapes for most research questions. However, machine learning approaches are also powerful and promise to provide more accurate and geographically wide-ranging isoscapes over time. Machine learning is computationally intensive and may not currently be an option for many researchers, but will be more widely available in the future.

Strontium isoscapes that are both appropriate and sufficiently high resolution to answer specific research questions do not exist for most parts of the world. Researchers intending to incorporate strontium analysis into their research designs should expect to conduct primary sampling and analysis to create appropriate isoscapes or refine existing ones, which should themselves not be utilized uncritically.

Interpretation

Strontium isotope analysis is currently the best developed and understood provenance tool. However, because isotope data can only exclude options of possible origin, the development of multi-isotope methods provides the route to a more powerful future approach. Using strontium isotope analysis for provenancing is most successful when combined with other isotopes and/or trace elements as part of a likelihood approach.

Future directions

In the future, we expect that increasing amounts of primary data and the increasing application of machine learning approaches to mapping will mean that strontium analysis continues to improve as a method of provenancing.

This research was apart of the ZANBA – Zooarchaeology of the Nuragic Bronze Age, a Marie Sklodowska Curie fellowship awarded to Emily Holt.

Forest pasturing and foddering: stable isotope prespectives

The use of forests for pasturing and fodder resources remains globally an important, preventing over-grazing and providing complementary fodder in times of poor pasture. Traditionally, forests in Europe were a rich source of collected forage (leafy hay) in the form of branches and leaves. At the same time, herd animals can have a negative impact on forests, where grazing is unchecked. The first herders of Central and Northern Europe experienced a landscape ‘Bristling with forests and foul swamps’ as described by Tacitus in 98AD [1]. The impact of animals on forests has been a focus of archaeologists for over 40 years. For example, Iversen [2] highlighted the importance of cattle in the expansion of the initial Neolithic settlements in his landam theory. The elm decline was initial contributed to increased use of leafy hay as animal forage.

How can we study forest pasture and foddering via stable carbon isotopes?

The canopy effect is where plants growing under dense forest canopies will exhibit depleted δ13C values. This is due to a combination of carbon -13 depletion of atmospheric CO2 under the canopy caused by CO2 respired by decaying organic matter and low light intensity at the forest floor decreasing photosynthesis efficiency. Consequently, animals browsing and grazing under heavy forest canopies or being fed leafy hay from these environments will exhibit low carbon isotope values in their tissues. Using this principal, researchers such as Dorothee Drucker and Rhiannon Stevens have explored the use of forests by wild ruminants past and present.

Schematic of the Canopy effect on δ13C values of plants growing under different canopy densities and its relationship to different ruminant tissues (cone collagen/enamel bioapatite)

A cautionary note

The issue of equifinality can arise with the interpretation of stable isotopic values because different growing environments can produce similar effects on the stable isotopic ratios of plants. These continue up the food chain. For example, waterlogged environments can have a similar impact on δ13C values of plant communities as a dense forest canopy. Lynch and colleagues interpreted depleted δ13C values observed in British aurochs as a reflection of animals feeding on plants from waterlogged environments. Whereas, a similar study by Noe-Nygaard and colleagues of Scandinavian aurochs suggested these animals were forest dwellers. This is why it is key prior to the interpretation of stable isotopic results that robust interpretative frameworks using paleoenvironmental are created for testing hypotheses.

Independent methods for determining forest foddering

Compound-specific stable nitrogen isotope analysis of collagen amino acids provides an independent means for identifying consumption of woody plants, such as leafy hay. Developed by researchers at University of Bristol, direct evidence of the plant composition of animal fodder (woody/herbaceous) can be uncovered using the dietary β values based on δ15N CSIA of amino acids from incremental samples of dentine from cattle molars. These values represent the Δ15NGlx-Phe values of the plants at the base of the food web, using a known trophic offset of −4.0‰ between cattle and their diet. The dietary β values are then be compared with established ranges of Δ15NGlx-Phe values expected for herbaceous (−5.4±2.1‰) and woody plants (−9.3±1.6‰), based on modern references. Combining incremental analysis of enamel bioapatite and CSIA-AA of dentine of the same tooth provides a powerful method to identify forest pasturing and seasonal use of leafy-hay.

Look out for upcoming papers by myself and colleagues from University of Bristol, and European institutions from Hungary, Poland, France and Germany, discussing the role of forests in LBK cattle husbandry uncovered during the NeoMilk project (ERC-advance awarded to Prof. Richard Evershed).

References

1. Bogucki, P., 1988. Forest farmers and stockholders. Early agriculture and its consequences in North-Central Europe. Cambridge: Cambridge press.

2. Iversen, J., 1969. The influence of prehistoric man on vegetation, in The Neolithisation of Denmark: 150 years of debate., A. Fischer and K. Kristiansen, Editors. Sheffield Archaeological Monographs: Sheffield. p. 105-16.

 Prehistoric Turkey Husbandry

Emily Lena Jones is an assistant professor of Anthropology at the University of New Mexico, Cyler Conrad is a Ph.D. graduate student in the Department of Anthropology at the University of New Mexico, and Seth Newsome is an assistant professor of Biology at the University of New Mexico. This post describes their collaborative research at the UNM Center for Stable Isotopes on prehistoric turkey husbandry in the American Southwest.

Maize Fed or Wild Diet?

Turkeys (Meleagris gallopavo) were used for a variety of economic purposes in the prehistoric American Southwest (Lang and Harris 1984). Turkeys were eaten; their feathers were used for blanket production; and their eggs were both consumed for food and used as binders in paint tempera formation. Ancient DNA evidence indicates prehistoric Southwesterners made use of both the wild Merrriam’s turkey (Meleagris gallopavo merriami) and a domestic turkey, which was genetically distinct from both Merriam’s and the Mexican domestic turkey (Speller et al. 2010).

fig 1
Figure 1. A male Merriam’s turkey displaying for a female hen in South Dakota (Image from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service: http://bit.ly/1zD3DAV)

Previous stable carbon (δ13C) and nitrogen (δ15N) isotope studies of Southwestern turkeys suggest that prehistorically, turkeys were predominately fed maize (Kellner et al. 2010; McCaffery et al. 2014; Rawlings and Driver 2010). Maize is a C4 plant, and the turkey bones so far sampled display a strong C4 signal (Figure 2).

Stable Isotope Research

Figure 2. Bone collagen data from turkeys in five different sites throughout the American Southwest. Note range of dates and cluster of isotope data near -12‰, suggesting a predominantly maize diet. [a]-Kellner et al. 2010 [b]-Rawlings and Driver 2010 [c]-McCaffery et al. 2014
Figure 2. Bone collagen data from turkeys in five different sites throughout the American Southwest. Note range of dates and cluster of isotope data near -12‰, suggesting a predominantly maize diet. [a]-Kellner et al. 2010 [b]-Rawlings and Driver 2010 [c]-McCaffery et al. 2014

Although previous studies have shown a remarkably consistent picture of turkey husbandry, the sample size from these studies is still relatively small.In addition, most of these studies have focused on sites in the Four Corners region or in Northern New Mexico. We are working to expand this sample to include turkeys from sites from the Middle Rio Grande Valley as well as more sites from high elevations or other “marginal” areas. We are analyzing both turkey bone collagen and apatite to understand the spacing and relationship between organic and inorganic isotope systems (Figure 3). Our data, from sites including Tijeras Pueblo (LA 581), Arroyo Hondo Pueblo (LA 12), and Chamisal Pueblo (LA 22765), suggests a more complex pattern of turkey husbandry practices than has been previously documented for the American Southwest. Within at least some contexts there appears to be a mix of maize-fed and wild-diet turkeys. We look forward to processing more samples and sharing our results in future publications and posts!

fig 3
Figure 3. Turkey bone specimens from Tijeras Pueblo being sonicated after emersion in a bath of 2:1 chloroform/methanol for lipid removal and collagen purification

 

References

Kellner, Corina M., Margaret J. Schoeninger, Katherine Spielmann and Katherine Moore. 2010. Stable Isotope Data Show Temporal Stability in Diet at Pecos Pueblo and Diet Variation among Southwest Pueblos. In Morgan, Michèle E. (ed.) Pecos Pueblo Revisited: The Biological and Social Context. Cambridge, Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology.

Lang, Richard and Arthur Harris. 1984. The Faunal Remains From Arroyo Hondo Pueblo, New Mexico: A Study in Short- Term Subsistence Change. Santa Fe, School of American Research Press.

McCaffery, Harlan, Robert H. Tykot, Kathy Durand Gore and Beau R. DeBoer. 2014. Stable Isotope Analysis of Turkey (Meleagris Gallopavo) Diet from Pueblo II and Pueblo III Sties, Middle San Juan Region, Northwest New Mexico. American Antiquity 79(2): 337-352.

Rawlings, Tiffany A. and Jonathan C. Driver. 2010. Paleodiet of domestic turkey, Shields Pueblo (5MT3807), Colorado: isotopic analysis and its implications for care of a household domesticate. Journal of Archaeological Science 37: 2433-2441.

Speller, Camilla F., Brian M. Kemp, Scott D. Wyatt, Cara Monroe, William D. Lipe, Ursula M. Arndt and Dongya Y. Yang. 2010. Ancient mitochondrial DNA analysis reveals complexity of indigenous North American turkey domestication. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 107(7): 2807-2812.

Clams and Climate

Christine Bassett is currently a graduate student working with Fred Andrus in the Department of Geological Sciences at the University of Alabama and holds a B.A. in Anthropology and a B.S. in Geology from the University of Georgia, US.  This post is based on research for her M.S. in Geology at Alabama.

Sclerochronology and Paleoenvironmental Reconstruction in the North Pacific Ocean

The archaeological record reflects fluctuating marine conditions from the Aleutian Islands to the Northwest coast of North America during the Late Holocene (Wanner et al., 2008). Though not widely tested, recent research suggests that conditions may have cooled enough during the Late Holocene cold phase to allow sea ice to accumulate as far south as the Northern Pacific Ocean. My research is focused on establishing sclerochronological analysis of Saxidomus gigantea as a means of detecting differences in sea surface temperatures in the Northern Pacific Ocean. Sclerochronological and isotopic analysis of skeletal carbonates can provide a proxy for sea surface temperatures as well as the length of seasons during the recent geological record. My research will contribute to a larger project focusing on human and animal adaptation to climate change led by Fred Andrus (Univerisity of Alabama), Catherine West (Boston University), and Mike Etnier (Portland State University) by providing an additional proxy for reconstructing environmental conditions in the Late Holocene.

Figure 1. Cross-section of mature shell, age seven years, magnification 10x.  The arrow denotes the distance between two annual winter growth lines (modified from Hallmann et al., 2009).
Figure 1. Cross-section of mature shell, age seven years, magnification 10x. The arrow denotes the distance between two annual winter growth lines (modified from Hallmann et al., 2009).

Sclerochronology is the study of the growth of invertebrate skeletons. I work exclusively with bivalves, whose distinct growth lines mark regular biologically and environmentally controlled growth intervals (Hallmann et al., 2009). Isotopic analysis of oxygen (δ18O) from growth lines can identify winter growth bands between successive growing seasons. Nadine Hallman and her colleagues (2009) examined the life history of S. giganteus and compared shell precipitation during the organism’s life with oxygen isotopic analysis. They determined that dark bands (Fig. 1) largely co-occurred with peaks in δ18O (Fig. 2). These dark bands mark the beginning and end of a season of growth and the interval between them represent the length of one growing season.

Oxygen isotope variation
Figure 2. Upper: Shell oxygen isotope record (δ18O, black bars) compared with reconstructed temperature (Tδ18O, light grey curve) and sea surface temperature (SST, dark grey curve) data collected from http://www.cdc.noaa.gov.  Lower:  Daily growth increment width time series (n = number of increments per year.  The blue bars represent the annual winter growth lines measured in (A).  Positive δ18O values correspond with winter growth lines while negative δ18O were sampled from the portion of the shell between winter growth lines.  Oxygen isotope data confirms annual winter growth lines.  Specimen collected September, 9 2007 (modified from Hallmann et al., 2009).

Measuring and comparing the lengths of seasonal shell growth from shells collected at higher latitudes with shells collected from slightly lower latitudes could provide a means of assessing changes in the length of growth seasons, possibly indicating differential sea surfaces temperatures between latitudes. Applying this method to ancient archaeological shells would allow me to test for changes in the length of growing season and by extension, the presence of cold conditions – and possibly sea ice – in the Northern Pacific Ocean during the Late Holocene.

Map of the study area (Alaska)
Figure 3. Collection sites have not yet been determined. Potential site candidates are located along the Gulf of Alaska and include Unalaska (A) and Kodiak Islands (B), Alaska and Dundas Island, B.C. (C) (modified from NASA satellite image).

Winter growth line in S. gigantea
Figure 4. Image of winter growth line in an acetate peel made from S. gigantea cross-section at 40X magnification (Personal image by Bassett, 2014).

To accomplish this, I plan to collect samples of Saxidomus gigantea from Alaska and Northern British Columbia (Fig. 3). I will analyze δ18O profiles across the organism’s second or third year of growth, the most ontogenetically reliable period of growth, to determine that winter growth bands correspond to peaks in δ18O so that later sclerochronological analysis can be performed. For sclerochronological analysis, I will prepare acetate peels (Fig. 4) so that I can then count lunar-daily growth lines between winter growth bands to quantitatively measure the length of the growing season. Assuming I can detect a difference in the length of the growing season between samples collected at different latitudes, I will apply the same method to ancient samples from the same regions. If the method tested here is successful, sclerochronological analysis of bivalves may be able to contribute to δ18O data interpretation and comparative studies with other organisms to provide a more comprehensive view of changes in SST through recent geological history. Understanding climate in the past contributes greatly to archaeological research that seeks to understand how human behavior, particularly the exploitation of floral and faunal resources, changes as components of the environment change.

REFERENCES

Hallmann, N., Burchell, M., Schone, B.R., Irvine, G.V., Maxwell, D., 2009, High-resolution sclerochronological analysis of the bivalve mollusk Saxidomus gigantea from Alaska and British Columbia: techniques for revealing environmental archives and archaeological seasonality. Journal of Archaeological Science, v. 36, pp. 2353-2364.

Wanner, H., Beer, J., Butikofer, J., Crowley, T.J., Cubasch, U., Fluckiger, J., Goosse, H., Grosjean, M., Joos, F., Kaplan, J.O., Kuttel, M., Muller, S.A., Prentice, C., Solomina, O., Stocker, T.F., Tarasov, P., Wagner, M., and Widmann, M., 2008, Mid- to Late Holocene climate change: an overview. Quaternary Science Reviews, v. 27, no. 19-20, pp. 1791-1828.

Fish for the City

We’re back with new blog posts after a short summer hiatus. Our first post of the academic year (which has already begun for some of us in the US!) comes from David Orton, who is currently an Early Career Research Fellow on the EUROFARM project at University College London, where he is also a Teaching Fellow in Zooarchaeology. Here he shares research that was conducted during his previous postdoctoral fellowship at the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research at the University of Cambridge, which was recently published in Antiquity.

A Meta-analysis of Archaeological Cod Remains as a Tool for Understanding the Growth of London’s Northern Trade

The backstory to this research comes in two parts. First, a landmark zooarchaeological study by James Barrett and colleagues (2004) demonstrated an explosion in marine fish consumption in England within a few decades of AD1000.  Before this event – dubbed the ‘Fish Event Horizon’ (FEH) in tribute to Douglas Adams – sea fishing seems to have been rare and small-scale.

http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/
Potential source regions and isotopic signatures for archaeological cod bones. Cross-hairs show one standard deviation ranges. Images taken from Orton et al. 2011 under CC BY license.

Second, James and his team applied stable isotope provenancing of cod bones to test whether this FEH represented a local phenomenon or the early onset of long distance trade from northern waters (full disclosure: I joined the project towards the end of this stage, in 2010). δ13C and δ15N signatures were established for six potential fishing regions using 259 samples from more than 10 countries. Applying this ‘target’ specimens from 23 (post)medieval sites around the North Sea (Barrett et al. 2011) and Baltic (Orton et al. 2011), we showed that a significant trade in northern cod existed by the 13th-14th centuries, but that the initial FEH in England primarily entailed local fishing. This raised more questions: when exactly did the trade start, how suddenly, and did the imported fish supplement or replace local catches?

Our new study, just published in Antiquity, combines a new zooarchaeological meta-analysis with the existing isotopic results to tell a clear story regarding cod imports to the city of London. Both elements rely on the same principle: that cod were traditionally decapitated before preservation for long-range trade, and that cranial elements thus normally represent relatively local catches. This allowed us to use head bones to establish regional isotopic signatures in the previous isotope work, but it also means that the cranial:postcranial ratio in consumer sites like London can be a rough index for the relative contribution of imports. We simply compiled all the raw data we could find on well-dated cod bones – almost 3000 specimens from 95 sites, including large datasets from Alison Locker and from MOLA – and plotted it using context-level date ranges.

http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/
Stable isotopic provenancing results for 34 archaeological cod vertebrae and cleithra from various London sites (A; data from Barrett et al. 2011) set against AD 700–1700 detail of the estimated frequency distributions (B). Figure taken from Orton et al. 2014 under CC BY license.

The data show a very sudden switch to imports in the early/mid 13th C, with frequency of cranial bones dropping off just as the number of vertebrae increases sharply. This fits the isotopic results remarkably well: before about AD1250 almost all sampled specimens seem to be local; afterwards the majority are probable imports. Locally caught cod thus seem to have been substantially and rapidly replaced in Londoners’ diet by traded fish almost 800 years ago. What this meant for the local fishing industry is uncertain, but should become clearer when we look at other towns and species.

Biomolecular provenancing has a unique ability to provide direct evidence for the source of imported bones, but its cost and destructiveness ultimately limit sample sizes and hence the reliability and resolution of the stories it can tell. Integrating it with the much larger samples that can be marshalled from meta-analyses of conventional zooarchaeological data has great potential to overcome this problem.

REFERENCES

Orton DC, Morris J, Locker A and Barrett JH (2014) Fish for the City: meta-analysis of archaeological cod remains as a tool for understanding the growth of London’s northern trade. Antiquity 88, 516-530.
[link: http://antiquity.ac.uk/ant/088/ant0880516.htm%5D

Orton DC, Makowiecki D, de Roo T, Johnstone C, Harland J, Jonsson L et al. (2011) Stable Isotope Evidence for Late Medieval (14th–15th C) Origins of the Eastern Baltic Cod (Gadus morhua) Fishery. PLoS ONE 6, e27568.
[DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0027568]

Barrett J, Orton D, Johnstone C, Harland J, Van Neer W, Ervynck A et al. (2011) Interpreting the expansion of sea fishing in medieval Europe using stable isotope analysis of archaeological cod bones. Journal of Archaeological Science 38, 1516-24.
[DOI: 10.1016/j.jas.2011.02.017]

Barrett JH, Locker AM, and Roberts CM (2004b) The origins of intensive marine fishing in medieval Europe: the English evidence. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London. Series B: Biological Sciences 271, 2417-21. [DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2004.2885]

Climate in Your Dinner

Our latest contributor is Georgia Roberts. Georgia is currently in the second year of her PhD at La Trobe University, Melbourne, Australia, and holds a Masters in Archaeological Science from Australian National University.

Investigations of Seasonality in the Archaeological Record of Southwestern Tasmania, Australia

Stable isotope analysis can support a range of zooarchaeological research. One such application is investigating seasonality – assessing the season of death of individual animals. When these animals are associated with archaeological sites, we can use this data to infer season of site use.

The rugged limestone karst landscape of southwestern Tasmania, Australia, contains several archaeological cave sites with exceptional preservation. This region has been described as an archaeological ‘province’ sharing many characteristics, including distinctive faunal collections, dominated by Bennett’s wallaby (70% by Minimum Number of Individual [MNI] counts) and the Common Wombat (27% MNI). The current project focusses on two of these sites – Warreen Cave and Bone Cave.

Related archaeological sites in southwestern Tasmania. Adapted from Cosgrove et al. 2010.
Related archaeological sites in southwestern Tasmania. Adapted from Cosgrove et al. 2010.

The wilderness of southwestern Tasmania.
The wilderness of southwestern Tasmania.

Wombat teeth are continuously growing, capturing the isotopic signature of the surrounding environment in the enamel as it forms. The mandibular incisor is the longest tooth (6-7cm) and records approximately 18 months of isotopic data. By sequentially sampling the enamel, a high-resolution record of local climate (δ18O) and vegetation (δ13C) can be retrieved. By assessing seasonal variation in modern analogues, the data can be used to determine season of death and thus inferred season of site use.

Sequential sampling of tooth enamel along the mandibular incisor from a modern Common wombat.
Sequential sampling of tooth enamel along the mandibular incisor from a modern Common wombat.

Dr Anne Pike-Tay and colleagues (Pike-Tay et al. 2008) used odontochronological analysis to identify that Bennett’s wallabies, the primary prey species, had been killed in the same season throughout the chronology of each site – autumn/winter for Warreen Cave and summer for Bone cave. My PhD uses stable isotopic analysis of Common wombat (Vombatus ursinus) teeth to test this trend, investigating when and how wombats were being utilised by Tasmanian Aboriginal people at the end of the Pleistocene (35,000 to 11,500 years ago).

Tasmanian Common Wombats – female with joey.
Tasmanian Common Wombats – female with joey.

This research is supported by the La Trobe University Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences Internal Funding Scheme, the Australian Archaeological Association Research Grant Scheme and Dr Michael Gagan of the Earth Environment Stable Isotope Laboratories (Australian National University).

References

Cosgrove, R., Field, J., Garvey, J., Brenner-Coltrain, J., Goede, A., Charles, B., Wroe, S., Pike-Tay, A., Grün, R., Aubert, M., Lees, W., O’Connell, J., 2010. Overdone overkill – the archaeological perspective on Tasmanian megafaunal extinctions. Journal of Archaeological Science 37, 2486–2503.

Pike-Tay, A., Cosgrove, R., Garvey, J., 2008. Systematic seasonal land use by late Pleistocene Tasmanian Aborigines. Journal of Archaeological Science 35, 2532–2544.