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Keywords:

  • stable isotopes;
  • vertebrate food web;
  • palaeoecosystem;
  • Late Neolithic

Abstract

Stable carbon and nitrogen isotope analyses of bone collagen, and stable carbon and oxygen isotope analyses of the bone's structural carbonate, were performed on 120 individuals representing 33 vertebrate species, including a single human bone find, collected from the Late Neolithic settlement at Pestenacker, Bavaria, Germany. We were thus capable of reconstructing a rather complex food web and could also address particular issues, such as whether humans influenced the diet of their domestic animals as opposed to their wild relatives, or whether humans perhaps had to compete over food with their domesticates. A rather unexpected result was that freshwater fish, which could be captured in the nearby river Lech, a major tributary of the Danube, contributed to the human diet only occasionally. As for mammals, it was also possible to recognise different trophic levels for birds and aquatic vertebrates, applying stable isotope analyses to both bone collagen and structural carbonate. In the case of fish, δ18O values at least revealed a physiological regularity in terms of temperature preference, besides diet. Conceivably, variability of δ18O in surface water as reflected, for example, by species that avoided human settlements, may help to characterise past ecosystems and to define site catchment exploited by Neolithic man in the course of food acquisition. Copyright © 2006 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.