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Keywords:

  • carbon;
  • isotopes;
  • livestock raising;
  • nitrogen;
  • the Neolithic;
  • the Wei River valley

Abstract

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Stable carbon and nitrogen isotopes and palaeodiet study
  5. Archaeological background
  6. Materials and methods
  7. Results
  8. Discussions
  9. Conclusion
  10. Acknowledgements
  11. References

Although a patchwork of projects shows a process of agriculture intensification in North China during the Neolithic, the impact of cereal farming on animal husbandry and their mutual interaction remain cloudy. This study reports bone collagen δ13C and δ15N of humans and animals from Wayaogou (ca 6.5–6.0 kyrs bp) and Dongying (ca 5.9–5.6 kyrs bp, 4.6–4.0 kyrs bp) to explore temporal trend of livestock raising and particularly the importance of millet fodder to stock raising practices in the Wei River valley, North China. The isotopic evidence overall shows that millet products increased in human and domestic animal diets during the mentioned chronological span. δ13C values of pigs and dogs at Dongying are higher than those at Wayaogou, implying that the importance of millet nutrients increased to animal husbandry diachronically. Interestingly, δ13C results of domestic cattle of Dongying late phase (−14.1 ± 1.1‰, N = 5) are more enriched than Wayaogou wild Bos (−17.8 ± 0.3‰, N = 3), indicating that millet fodder had taken a significant place in early cattle husbandry. Besides, differences between Bos species of the two periods also imply that δ13C values of bone collagen constitute a potential indicator for tracing the origin of cattle husbandry in North China. In addition, domestic sheep at Dongying produced similar isotope data to wild ovicaprid at Wayaogou, suggesting that they possibly had grazed for the most in grassland and therefore experienced a different lifestyle from cattle. Copyright © 2014 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.


Introduction

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Stable carbon and nitrogen isotopes and palaeodiet study
  5. Archaeological background
  6. Materials and methods
  7. Results
  8. Discussions
  9. Conclusion
  10. Acknowledgements
  11. References

Understanding how animal husbandry evolves over time is key to reveal the shift of human subsistence and adaption in the course of the Neolithic. In particular, it is important to trace mutual interaction between livestock and crop production systems during the early stage of human society. It is generally accepted that North China is one of the important centres of plant (millets) and animal (dog and pig) origins in the world (Yuan et al., 2008; Zhao, 2011). However, the impact of cereal farming on animal raising practices and their mutual interaction are still poorly understood. The Wei River valley (Figure 1), one of the critical regions in North China yielding substantial amount of animal remains, including the local domesticates (dogs and pigs) and possibly exotic domesticates (sheep and cattle) imported from the West (Flad et al., 2007; Lü, 2010), allows us to explore how animal husbandry developed along with the prosperity of farming during the Neolithic.

image

Figure 1. Location of archaeological sites mentioned in and around the Wei River valley: (1) Wayaogou, (2) Dongying, (3) Dadiwan, (4) Jiangzhai, (5) Kangjia, (6) Baijia, (7) Taosi, (8) Zhangdeng and (9) Xinzhai.

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Laoguantai culture (ca 8.5–6.9 kyrs bp) represents the earliest period of man-manipulated food production in the Wei River valley, namely millet cultivation and pig and dog husbandry, although hunting and gathering were still the principal practices in human lifeways (Lang, 2003; Liu, 2006; Barton et al., 2009; Atahan et al., 2011). By contrast, during Yangshao period (ca 6.9–5.0 kyrs bp), great intensity of crop production is revealed by high frequency of millet remains, which were staple to farmers as well as pigs and dogs (Pechenkina et al., 2005; Barton et al., 2009; Zhao, 2011; Shang et al., 2012). When it came to Longshan period (ca 5.0–4.0 kyrs bp), the production of cereals and livestock were intensified and diversified. Besides millets, rice, another cultivar originated in Yangtze River Valley, spread to North China and became one of the important crops (Zhao & Xu, 2004; Zhang et al., 2010a). Meanwhile, large numbers of sheep and cattle remains were found except for the pigs and dogs (Li et al., 2007; Luo, 2009; Lü, 2010).

In this study, Wayaogou (image) and Dongying (image) at the Wei River valley in Shaanxi Province, China, dated to Yangshao Culture period and Longshan Culture period respectively, were chosen. The stable isotope compositions of animal and human bones from the two sites were measured and analysed here in order to explore the relationship between animal husbandry and cereal production and its diachronic shift.

Stable carbon and nitrogen isotopes and palaeodiet study

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Stable carbon and nitrogen isotopes and palaeodiet study
  5. Archaeological background
  6. Materials and methods
  7. Results
  8. Discussions
  9. Conclusion
  10. Acknowledgements
  11. References

In the past decades, stable carbon (δ13C) and nitrogen (δ15N) isotope analysis has become a routine procedure in archaeological research to reconstruct human or animal diets and subsistent strategies (i.e. Richards et al., 2003; Noe-Nygaard et al., 2005). Stable carbon isotopes often provide an estimate on the consumption of C3 versus C4 plants in terrestrial foodwebs. C3 and C4 plants are distinguishable in the photosynthetic pathways (Smith & Epstein, 1971; O'Leary, 1981). C3 plants discriminate more against 13C during CO2 fixation and consequently produce lower δ13C values than C4 plants. δ13C in modern C3 and C4 plants in the Wei River valley and surrounding region are −27.5‰ (from −28.5‰ to −24.4‰) and −12.6‰ (from −14.6‰ to −10.5‰), respectively (Wang et al., 2003; Wang et al., 2005). Foxtail millet (Setaria italica) and broomcorn millet (Panicum miliaceum) are typical C4 cereals with δ13C values close to −13.0‰ (Yang et al., 2011). Given the fossil fuel effect (Marino & Mcelroy, 1991), the δ13C values of prehistoric millets may be around −11.5‰. The isotopic difference between the two categories of plants would be transferred in the foodwebs with substantial isotopic fractionation. For mammals, the isotopic enrichment from diet to bone collagen is about 5‰ although this value can vary to some extent due to the different composition of macro-biomolecules in foods (DeNiro & Epstein, 1978; van der Merwe & Vogel, 1978; Lee-Thorp et al., 1989; Ambrose & Norr, 1993; Jim et al., 2006; Fernandes et al., 2012). Thus, bone collagen δ13C values can tell the consumption of specific plant-based foods, either from the plant itself or the animals preying on the plants.

Different from carbon isotopes, nitrogen isotopes are typically used to estimate trophic levels for the organism. It is based on the assumption that body tissue δ15N values of consumers are generally elevated over those of their diet by 3–5‰ (DeNiro & Epstein, 1981; Bocherens & Drucker, 2003; Hedges & Reynard, 2007), although the enrichment value fluctuates because of the influential factors such as food quality (Sponheimer et al., 2003; Robbins et al., 2005), physiological press (Fuller et al., 2005; Haubert et al., 2005) and environment (Hartman, 2011). In addition, some other factors affecting plant δ15N values, such as soil condition (i.e. aridity and salinity) and manuring effects, may have some substantial influences on the δ15N values of animal or human bone collagen as well (Ambrose, 1991; Choi et al., 2003; Bogaard et al., 2007).

Archaeological background

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Stable carbon and nitrogen isotopes and palaeodiet study
  5. Archaeological background
  6. Materials and methods
  7. Results
  8. Discussions
  9. Conclusion
  10. Acknowledgements
  11. References

The Wei River valley forms part of the Yellow River basin in North China and was typically occupied by millet farmers during the Neolithic. The paleoenvironmental studies in the region suggest that the climate was temperately warm and semi-humid and that the sparse-wood grasslands were the dominant vegetation during the Holocene (An et al., 2000; Porter & Zhou, 2006; Shang & Li, 2010). δ13C values of the total organic matter of palaeosol (approximately −24‰ to −18‰) indicate that the vegetation of North China Loess Plateau during the Holocene was dominated by C3 plants (Liu et al., 2005; Ning, 2010).

The Wayaogou site (34°59′58″N; 109°1′34″E, 734 m a.s.l.) is situated on the left terrace of Qishui river, a tributary of the Wei River in the northern margin of the Wei River valley. Radiocarbon dates (Lab of Institute of Archaeology, 1994) on charcoal among Neolithic deposits show an occupation during 6268–5320 cal bp, whereas the excavators (Wang, 1998; Wang, 2011) suggested that the site can be dated to ca 6.5–6.0 kyrs bp according to the analysis of pottery typology (Table 1). Fauna assemblages at the site include a wide range of animal species, including deer, pig, ovicaprid and bovid, among which the deer (56.4%) and pigs (38.4%) were predominated (Wang, 2011).

Table 1. Chronology of study sites
SitePhase14C dating (cal bp)Archaeological Age (bp)Reference
WayaogouBanpo5909–5663, 6268–5911, 5647–5386, 5599–5338, 5584–5320ca 6500–6000(Lab of Institute of Archaeology, 1994; Wang, 1995; Wang, 1998)
DongyingDY-1 ca 5900–5500(Baoji Archaeological Team & Shaanxi ProvincialInstitute of Archaeology, 1993; Shaanxi Provincial Institute of Archaeology, 2010)
 DY-2 ca 4600–4000(Baoji Archaeological Team & Shaanxi Institute of Archaeology, 1993; Shaanxi Provincial Institute of Archaeology, 2010)

The Dongying site (34°26′36″N; 109°0′55″E, 372 m a.s.l.) is 60 km away from Wayaogou in the southeast and overlooks the confluence of the Jing and Wei Rivers. On the basis of typological analysis of artefacts, primarily on pottery, the duration are divided into two phases, namely DY-1 and DY-2, attributed to the Miaodigou culture (ca 5.9–5.6 kyrs bp) and Kexingzhuang II culture (ca 4.6–4.0 kyrs bp), respectively (Shaanxi Provincial Academy of Archaeology, 2010). The presence of animal species is diverse, including dogs, pigs, deer, sheep and cattle. Pig (20.0%, 30.9%) and deer (70%, 34.7%) were still dominant in the fauna assemblages during both phases (Hu, 2010).

Materials and methods

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Stable carbon and nitrogen isotopes and palaeodiet study
  5. Archaeological background
  6. Materials and methods
  7. Results
  8. Discussions
  9. Conclusion
  10. Acknowledgements
  11. References

Fifty-seven animal samples were chosen, including pig, dog, bovid, ovicaprid, water buffalo, cervid, equid, rabbit and pheasant, among which 29 came from Wayaogou, four from DY-1 and 24 from DY-2 (Table 2). In addition, five human samples from DY-2 were also included.

Table 2. Archaeological background, extraction results and isotope values for samples of Wayaogou and Dongying
Lab IDSiteContextPhaseTaxonCollagen%C%N%C/Nδ13C‰δ15N‰
WYG1WayaogouH17:39WayaogouPig (Sus domestica)1.742.215.73.1−16.67.2
WYG2WayaogouH124:21WayaogouPig (S. domestica)0.139.114.23.2−10.75.9
WYG3WayaogouH139:35WayaogouPig (S. domestica)0.741.715.43.2−17.64.7
WYG4WayaogouH150:144WayaogouPig (S. domestica)
WYG5WayaogouH156:84WayaogouPig (S. domestica)1.842.715.83.2−17.05.4
WYG6WayaogouH167:25WayaogouPig (S. domestica)0.843.315.93.2−9.06.3
WYG7WayaogouH199:533WayaogouPig (S. domestica)0.741.615.23.2−10.96.4
WYG8WayaogouH156:104WayaogouPig (S. domestica)1.142.515.63.2−10.16.2
WYG9WayaogouH227:21WayaogouPig (S. domestica)0.740.314.83.2−12.45.0
WYG10WayaogouH70:16WayaogouDog (Canis familiaris)7.343.816.13.2−11.09.7
WYG11WayaogouH197:55WayaogouDog (C. familiaris)4.744.816.53.2−10.97.1
WYG12WayaogouH156:22WayaogouDog (C. familiaris)4.939.314.53.2−11.39.7
WYG13WayaogouH72:B46?WayaogouBovid (Bos sp.)0.643.916.23.2−17.56.0
WYG14WayaogouH79:B43WayaogouBovid (Bos sp.)4.141.615.43.2−18.06.3
WYG15WayaogouH170:14WayaogouBovid (Bos sp.)
WYG16WayaogouT26H70:B22WayaogouBovid (Bos sp.)2.642.715.73.2−17.84.5
WYG17WayaogouT26H70:B10WayaogouOvicaprid (Ovis sp.)8.344.416.33.2−17.66.7
WYG18WayaogouT26H72:B40WayaogouOvicaprid (Ovis sp.)3.946.917.33.2−17.38.4
WYG19WayaogouH13:235WayaogouPheasant (Gallus sp.)0.138.514.33.1−16.95.2
WYG20WayaogouH149:43WayaogouPheasant (Gallus sp.)1.343.316.03.2−16.85.4
WYG21WayaogouH96:379WayaogouPheasant (Gallus sp.)6.842.615.53.2−15.75.2
WYG22WayaogouH180:123WayaogouCervid (Cervus nippon)1.743.315.93.2−20.14.1
WYG23WayaogouH180:124WayaogouCervid (C. nippon)5.045.616.83.2−20.13.5
WYG24WayaogouH180:125WayaogouCervid (C. nippon)3.042.615.73.2−20.33.9
WYG25WayaogouH180:126WayaogouCervid (C. nippon)0.943.516.03.2−19.94.3
WYG26WayaogouH180:130WayaogouCervid (C. nippon)0.544.816.43.2−19.37.6
WYG27WayaogouH180:131WayaogouCervid (C. nippon)2.942.515.73.2−19.84.3
WGY28WayaogouH199:513WayaogouCervid (Moschus moschiferus)1.741.915.43.2−20.64.6
WYG29WayaogouH216:44WayaogouCervid (M. moschiferus)1.840.7153.2−21.65.8
DY1DongyingT2710②H41:11DY-1Pig (S. domestica)1.642.415.63.2−9.86.1
DY2DongyingT2710②H41:59DY-1Pig (S. domestica)6.544.416.33.2−9.27.7
DY3DongyingT1408③h5:15DY-2Pig (S. domestica)6.845.516.83.2−14.66.3
DY4DongyingT1408③h5:16DY-2Pig (S. domestica)6.043.916.33.1−15.45.9
DY5DongyingT1②H66:2DY-2Pig (S. domestica)3.543.316.13.1−8.07.5
DY6DongyingT1②H66:3DY-2Pig (S. domestica)1.642.515.63.2−7.89.1
DY7Dongying2#④H4:1DY-2Pig (S. domestica)2.541.215.33.1−8.27.6
DY8DongyingT2810②:2DY-2Pig (S. domestica)1.340.115.03.1−9.57.1
DY9DongyingT2709③H6:1DY-2Pig (S. domestica)1.539.814.93.1−9.77.4
DY10DongyingT1408③h5:7DY-2Dog (C. familiaris)5.741.915.53.1−14.66.9
DY11DongyingT2810②:29DY-2Dog (C. familiaris)0.540.815.13.2−9.15.9
DY12DongyingT1②H66:33DY-2Cattle (Bos sp.)3.144.616.53.2−13.87.5
DY13DongyingT1②H66:35DY-2Cattle (Bos sp.)0.937.413.83.2−15.57.0
DY14DongyingT2810②H55:1DY-2Cattle (Bos sp.)3.044.116.23.2−13.37.6
DY15Dongying2#④H72:10DY-2Cattle (Bos sp.)6.144.916.43.2−13.15.6
DY16DongyingT1810H62④:6DY-2Cattle (Bos sp.)1.439.514.63.1−15.08.5
DY17DongyingT0809④:32DY-2Sheep (Ovis sp.)6.845.116.63.2−18.98.3
DY18DongyingT2810②:17DY-2Sheep (Ovis sp.)4.644.616.33.2−16.65.9
DY19DongyingT2810②:36DY-2Pheasant (Gallus sp.)4.442.615.53.2−12.05.5
DY20DongyingT1508③h8:5DY-2Horse (Equus sp.)4.942.8163.1−16.53.8
DY21DongyingT1710②H1:1DY-2Hare (Lepus capensis)5.744.216.23.2−16.55.3
DY22DongyingT2309②H50:2DY-2Cat (Felis sp.)4.044.416.43.2−17.07.0
DY23DongyingT2409②:3DY-1Cervid (C. nippon)1.639.114.53.2−19.83.8
DY24DongyingT2710②H41:42DY-1Cervid (C. nippon)0.541.715.33.2−20.53.6
DY25DongyingT2810②:9DY-2Cervid (C. nippon)0.639.615.13.1−18.94.1
DY26DongyingT2709③H6:28DY-2Cervid (C. nippon)6.443.115.83.2−21.16.3
DY27DongyingH72:11DY-2Buffalo (Bubalus sp.)2.143.215.83.2−15.77.0
DY28DongyingT1②H66:32DY-2Buffalo (Bubalus sp.)3.243.616.13.2−12.66.0
DY29Dongying2#④H71:1DY-2Human (Homo sapiens)7.844.516.53.1−6.89.0
DY30Dongying2#④H71:2DY-2Human (H. sapiens)5.244.416.53.1−6.79.1
DY31DongyingT2309②H50:15DY-2Human (H. sapiens)4.642.115.73.1−8.39.6
DY32DongyingT1408③h5DY-2Human (H. sapiens)3.139.814.73.2−9.99.8
DY33DongyingT2309②H50:16DY-2Human (H. sapiens)1.042.315.73.1−8.49.4

All samples were prepared following the protocol described by Jay & Richards (2006) with some modifications. The bones were mechanically cleaned and demineralised in 0.5 M HCl at 4°C. Afterwards, the remains were washed into neutrality with deionised H2O and immersed in 0.0125 M NaOH at room temperature for 24 h. The remains were washed again into neutrality and plunged into HCl solution (pH = 3) at 75°C for 48 h to make the bone gelatinised. After the filtration, the solution was frozen and freeze-dried to get the collagen. The collagen yield (%) was calculated as the collagen weight divided by the bone weight.

The stable isotope ratios of bone collagen were analysed by isotope ratio mass spectrometers (IsoPrime 100. Elementar, UK) coupled with EA (Elementar) at the Environmental Stable Isotope Lab, Institute of Environment and Sustainable Development, Chinese Academy of Agricultural Science. The standard for measuring the content of C, N is sulfanilamide. IEAE-N-1 (Ammonium Sulfate) and USGS 24 (Graphite) were used to normalise N2 (AIR) and CO2 (Pee Dee Belemnite) in steel bottles, respectively. After 10 samples, an internal standard collagen sample with the average δ13C value of −14.7‰ and average δ15N value of 6.88‰ was inserted into the sample list for calibration and monitoring the stability. The analytical precision for C and N were ±0.2‰. Stable isotopic data are shown in Table 2.

Results

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Stable carbon and nitrogen isotopes and palaeodiet study
  5. Archaeological background
  6. Materials and methods
  7. Results
  8. Discussions
  9. Conclusion
  10. Acknowledgements
  11. References

Bone preservation

The preservation of bone collagen is assessed by indexes of collagen yield, carbon and nitrogen percentage yield (%C and %N), and atomic C/N ratios (DeNiro, 1985; Ambrose, 1990; Price et al., 1992; van Klinken, 1999). Of the 62 bone samples, two failed to meet the standard of quality required, whereas the others produced relatively well-preserved collagen. Among the collagen of acceptable quality, the collagen yields range from 0.1% to 8.3% by weight, which is much lower than modern bones (~20%), indicating that large part of bone collagen had been decomposed to some degree during long-term burial (Ambrose, 1990). However, %C values range from 37.4% to 46.9%, and %N values range from 13.8% to 17.3%, and all C : N ratios are between 3.1 and 3.2 in collagen, reflecting that those collagen are still well-preserved for stable isotopic analysis.

Wayaogou animal diets

The wide distribution of the data indicates that the diets of the animals were quite variable (Figure 2). Cervids have the most negative δ13C values (−20.2 ± 0.7‰, N = 8) and the lowest δ15N values (4.7 ± 1.3‰, N = 8), which is indicative of a C3 plant-based diet. In contrast, bovids and ovicaprids have higher δ13C values (−17.8 ± 0.3‰, N = 3 and −17.5 ± 0.2‰, N = 2, respectively), showing a mixed C3/C4 diet, which contained a relatively smaller amount of C4 grasses than C3 plants. δ13C and δ15N values of pheasants (−16.5 ± 0.7‰, 5.3 ± 0.1‰, N = 3) indicate that they had probably subsisted on a mainly plant-based diet containing substantial amount of C4 foodstuff, which could be resulted from millet consumption. Pig collagen δ13C values range from −17.6‰ to −9.0‰ and can be seen in two groups: WYG1, WYG3 and WYG5 with relatively low δ13C values, and WYG2, WYG6, WYG7 and WYG8 with higher δ13C values. The latter probably represented those that had consumed more C4-based nutrients, whereas the former group probably had a diet that was at least isotopically similar to ovicaprids and bovids. Dogs have the highest mean δ13C and δ15N values (−11.1 ± 0.2‰, 8.9 ± 1.4‰, respectively, N = 3), which is indicative of large quality of C4-based protein in their foods.

image

Figure 2. Stable carbon and nitrogen isotope compositions of animal bones at Wayaogou in Wei River valley.

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Dongying human and animal diets

All 28 human and animal samples exhibit δ13C values ranging from −21.1‰ to −7.8‰ and δ15N values ranging from 3.6‰ to 9.1‰, respectively, because of large dietary variation among species (Figure 3). It is evident that cervids relied exclusively on C3 plants, as their bone δ13C values are fairly negative (−20.1 ± 1.0‰, N = 4). As wild animals, horse and hare display δ13C values relatively elevated compared with cervids. This suggested that these animals lived in a different habitat, probably with less C4 plant growth. Sheep δ13C values are slightly more enriched, ranging from −18.9‰ to −16.6‰. This is consistent with the isotopic signals of mixed foragers with an emphasis on C3 plants (i.e. Yacobaccio et al., 2009). With a higher mean δ13C (−14.3 ± 1.1‰, N = 5), it appeared that cattle might have consumed more C4 plants than deer and sheep, whereas the relatively elevated δ15N (7.3 ± 1.1‰) values of the cattle was possibly resulted from different habitats or foraging experience. The two water buffaloes, most likely feral considering no domestic water buffalo in China before the first millennium bc (Liu et al., 2006; Yang et al., 2008), had relatively positive δ13C values, suggesting that they had incorporated a substantial amount of C4 plants (−15.7‰ and −12.6‰). These buffaloes were likely supplementing their diet with millets and other C4 weeds (e.g. Setaria viridis) (Pechenkina et al., 2005; Atahan et al., 2011). Alternatively, as buffaloes prefer specific habitats such as wetlands and swamps, grazing hygrophilous plants, for example, sedges (Cyperus, C4 plant), could also cause an enrichment in their δ13C values (Daniel & Grubh, 1966). The δ13C value of pheasant is −12.0‰ and markedly higher than those of the herbivores, which suggested the consumption of C4 plants such as millet.

image

Figure 3. Stable carbon and nitrogen isotope compositions of human and animal bones at Dongying in Wei River valley.

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The δ13C values of pigs range from −9.9‰ to −7.8‰ with three exceptions that displayed unusually elevated δ13C values around −15‰. Dogs display relatively similar collagen δ13C values (−11.9 ± 3.9‰, N = 2), suggesting that their diet was dominated by millet-related resources. Dogs (6.4 ± 0.7‰, N = 3) display lower mean δ15N value than pigs (7.2 ± 2.4‰, N = 3), which was probably a result from having less animal protein in their diet. The felid, which is a carnivore, yielded δ13C and δ15N values of −17.2‰ and 7.0‰ respectively, suggesting that it probably mostly preyed on C3 food consumers of a low trophic level. The δ13C values of the five humans group tightly around −8.0‰, reinforcing their emphasis on C4 foods, most significantly millets and millet-fed animals. They displayed relatively higher δ15N values (9.0–9.8‰) compared with those of the herbivores (including all ruminants and equid and hare, 6.3 ± 1.4‰, N = 13) and omnivores (pigs, 7.3 ± 1.0‰, N = 7).

Discussions

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Stable carbon and nitrogen isotopes and palaeodiet study
  5. Archaeological background
  6. Materials and methods
  7. Results
  8. Discussions
  9. Conclusion
  10. Acknowledgements
  11. References

Subsistence at Dongying

Pilot stable isotope studies suggest that millets were staple in human diet during Yangshao period in the Wei River valley (Pechenkina et al., 2005; Zhang et al., 2010b; Guo et al., 2011). It appeared that Dongying residents also concentrated significantly on millet-related nutrients and that rice consumption was fairly rare if any according to their high δ13C values, although charred rice and rice phytolith were occasionally detected in Longshan archaeobotanical remains of the region (Zhao & Xu, 2004; Zhang et al., 2010a). Obviously, ingestion of millet-related animal products was a big factor that increased δ13C values of bulk diet of Dongying humans given the high δ15N over animals as referred in the previous text, whereas direct consumption of millets might offer an alternative explanation although to what degree plant food contributed to the δ13C values of proteinaceous tissue in a mixed diet is unknown (Fernandes et al., 2012).

Pig and dog raising practices

A majority of the pigs and dogs from both sites relied heavily on C4 foodstuff, which were almost certainly millet-related (Pechenkina et al., 2005; Barton et al., 2009). This result confirms the argument that the two species commonly scavenged on human leftovers (Pechenkina et al., 2005; Hu et al., 2009). The mean δ13C value of pigs at Dongying is about 2.8‰ higher than those from Wayaogou. This probably suggests that pigs from Dongying were fed with more millet-related feed. Hence, it is likely that agriculture surplus was more commonly used as fodders for pig at Dongying than at Wayaogou.

Pig populations at both sites were quite variable in δ13C and δ15N values and so were Dongying dogs. Most of them display isotope values similar to those of humans, confirming their reliance on millets (Pechenkina et al., 2005; Guan et al., 2008; Barton et al., 2009). However, several outliers produce quite negative δ13C values and fairly low δ15N values, which are consistent with herbivores feeding on a mixed C3/C4 diet. This suggests that there could have been two distinct ways of keeping the animals. While majority were kept with an intensive foddering strategy, a smaller amount were kept with an extensive herded raising strategy (receiving less millet fodder). Consistent with our results, stable isotope analysis of domestic pigs and dogs also display the same patterns at Dadiwan (Barton et al., 2009), and Kangjia (Pechenkina et al., 2005) in the Wei River valley as well as Taosi (Chen et al., 2012), Wadian (Zhang et al., 2010b), Xinzhai (Wu et al., 2007) and Xinglongwa in North China (Liu et al., 2012). Therefore, we propose that intensive foddering was the major pig raising strategy in Neolithic millet farming communities in North China. In fact, this hypothesis is also supported by archaeological evidence, such as pig confinements unearthed at Wayaogou, Xipo, Jiangzhai and other Neolithic sites (Pechenkina et al., 2005; Luo, 2009; Wang, 2011). In the case of extensive herded raising strategy, although it is difficult to be tested, parallel examples did exist in the Han Dynasty and even today in the more remote areas of China, where pigs are herded outdoors frequently (Liu & Zhang, 1981).

Sheep and cattle husbandry

Archaeological evidence indicates that sheep (Ovis aries) and taurine cattle (Bos taurus) were initially domesticated somewhere in West Asia during the 11–12th millennia bp and then spread across the Eurasia (Bar-Yosef & Meadow, 1995; Zeder, 2008). Though when and how they came to China are still open to debate, as Bovidae remains belonging to the Yangshao period or earlier have been sporadically discovered (Lü, 2010). Longshan period is generally considered to be the earliest phase of sheep and cattle domestication in the Yellow River region on the basis of zooarchaeological investigations (Flad et al., 2007; Yuan et al., 2007; Luo, 2009; Lü, 2010). Therefore, stable isotope analysis of Bovidae remains at Wayaogou and Dongying can provide insight into the early feeding practices of these two exotic domesticates. Our study will also allow archaeologists to investigate on when these animals were first introduced to the Wei River valley.

Isotopically, Dongying domestic sheep show a mixed diet similar to Wayaogou wild ovicaprids; however, the components of C4 plants in their diets might be different. As domestic sheep could be differentiated in foraging experience from wild ovicaprids because of herding maintenance, that is, provisioning and supplementation, millet byproducts might have been included to feed them, especially during lean winter and wet days (Balasse et al., 2006; Makarewicz & Tuross, 2006). In contrast, the elevated δ13C values of Wayaogou ovicaprids were likely related to the presence of C4 grasses in grasslands where these animals grazed.

For a better understating of how the early domestic cattle were raised, δ13C values of Neolithic cattle and cervids in and around the Wei River valley are plotted in Figure 4. Cervids display similar δ13C value patterns through time, whereas cattle's δ13C values increased from pre-Yangshao to Longshan periods, indicating increasing reliance of C4 plants in their diet. Take DDW-1 Bos and Wayaogou ovicaprids as the baseline of wild grazer and browser, wild Bos should present similar isotope ratio pattern in the region, which appears to be demonstrated in the Wayaogou Bos. However, a Kolmogorov–Smirnov nonparametric independent sample test (p = 0.03, <0.05) claims that there was a significant difference in δ13C values between Wayaogou and Dongying Bos populations, suggesting that Dongying cattle's foraging experience were distinctive from wild ruminants. Considering the invisible differences between cervid δ13C values statistically (Kolmogorov–Smirnov nonparametric independent sample test, p = 0.80, >0.05), climate fluctuation could not be the only reason behind the alteration of δ13C values in plants. Accordingly, we speculate that the elevated δ13C values were presumably resulted from the consumption of substantial amount of millets, probably in the form of millet foddering. In fact, the cases at Taosi and Zhangdeng have provided parallels that millet had long been used for cattle husbandry since the Longshan period (Chen et al., 2012; Hou et al., 2013).

image

Figure 4. Stable carbon isotope compositions of cervids (A) and cattle (B) in Neolithic sites [Data of Dadiwan (ca 7.9–7.2 kyrs bp, 6.5–4.9 kyrs bp), Baijia (ca 7.7–7.4 kyrs bp) and Taosi (ca 4.4–3.9 kyrs bp) are available in Barton et al., 2009; Atahan et al., 2011; Chen et al., 2012].

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Conclusion

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Stable carbon and nitrogen isotopes and palaeodiet study
  5. Archaeological background
  6. Materials and methods
  7. Results
  8. Discussions
  9. Conclusion
  10. Acknowledgements
  11. References

Our project here reports δ13C and δ15N data to trace the shift of livestock raising practice and its relationship with millet farming in the Wei River valley. As expected, Dongying humans mainly subsisted on millets and millet-fed domesticates, whereas rice consumption was relatively rare if any according to their high bone collagen δ13C and δ15N values. Both pigs and dogs at Dongying had elevated δ13C values relative to those at Wayaogou, indicating the increasing importance of millet farming in animal husbandry over time. Interestingly, different feeding practices are revealed by the intraspecies disparity in δ13C values of both pig populations: whereas most domesticates display heavy reliance on millet feeds, others with lower δ13C values likely consumed less millets. These differences were probably due to different animal husbandry practices adopted by each group, namely intensive and extensive-herded managements, respectively. As new numbers in Longshan herds of the region, diets of sheep and cattle were different from those of pigs and dogs to some extent according to their isotopic signals. Because Dongying sheep present similar isotope patterns to Wayaogou wild ovicaprids, it appeared that the farmers at Dongying might have allowed their herds to graze on nearby grassland in most cases. The relatively elevated δ13C values of Dongying cattle indicate that they probably had incorporated more millets in their diet than the sheep. It is also worth to note that the elevated δ13C patterns in domestic cattle in comparison with that of the wild ruminants in the study region suggested that isotope study can be used as a useful indicator for tracing the origin of cattle husbandry in North China.

Acknowledgements

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Stable carbon and nitrogen isotopes and palaeodiet study
  5. Archaeological background
  6. Materials and methods
  7. Results
  8. Discussions
  9. Conclusion
  10. Acknowledgements
  11. References

We would like to acknowledge the support of grants from the funding from the CAS Strategic Priority Research Program (XDA05130501, XDA05130303), the National Key Technology R&D Program (2010BAK67B03), the Compass Plan Foundation (20110301), and the China Postdoctoral Science Foundation Grant (2012M520442). We thank all of the archaeologists who helped us sample the bones. We are grateful to Ms Christina Chueng, Prof. Michael Richards, Prof. Julia Lee-Thorp, Dr Brian Chisholm, Dr Tao Li, Dr Xinyi Liu and especially the reviewers for their constructive comments on the manuscript.

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  4. Stable carbon and nitrogen isotopes and palaeodiet study
  5. Archaeological background
  6. Materials and methods
  7. Results
  8. Discussions
  9. Conclusion
  10. Acknowledgements
  11. References
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