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Stable isotope investigations of charred barley (Hordeum vulgare) and wheat (Triticum spelta) grains from Danebury Hillfort: implications for palaeodietary reconstructions

Lightfoot, E; Stevens, RE; (2012) Stable isotope investigations of charred barley (Hordeum vulgare) and wheat (Triticum spelta) grains from Danebury Hillfort: implications for palaeodietary reconstructions. Journal of Archaeological Science , 39 (3) pp. 656-662. 10.1016/j.jas.2011.10.026.

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Abstract

Palaeodietary studies typically focus on the analysis of bone collagen due to the limited availability of plant remains. Isotopic analysis of plant remains, however, allow for a more extensive consideration of the contribution of plants to the human diet and can potentially provide information about the environment in which the crops were grown. This paper reports the results of carbon and nitrogen isotope analyses performed on charred barley and wheat grains recovered from pits within Danebury Iron Age hillfort. To the best of our knowledge, this is the first Iron Age site in Britain from which charred grains have been isotopically analysed. Our results suggest that cereals found at the hillfort were grown in several different environmental contexts. The isotope data demonstrate that the herbivores were not consuming a diet primarily based on grains as the δ 15 N values of the grains are very similar to those of the herbivores. Palaeodietary investigations typically assume that humans eating plant protein only would have the same δ 15 N value as the local herbivores. This assumption is clearly invalid at Danebury, where the humans and animals appear to have consumed either different parts of the same plants or different plants. Researchers typically interpret high differences between human and animal δ 15 N values as indicative of diets high in animal protein, however where major plant resources have δ 15 N values similar to those of the herbivores our ability to distinguish between plant and animal sources of protein in the diet is limited. Our research has demonstrated that whenever possible it is desirable to measure the isotopic signatures of potential major plant resources in order to understand past subsistence strategies. © 2011 Elsevier Ltd.

Type: Article
Title: Stable isotope investigations of charred barley (Hordeum vulgare) and wheat (Triticum spelta) grains from Danebury Hillfort: implications for palaeodietary reconstructions
DOI: 10.1016/j.jas.2011.10.026
UCL classification: UCL > School of Arts and Social Sciences
UCL > School of Arts and Social Sciences > Faculty of Social and Historical Sciences > Institute of Archaeology
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URI: http://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/1463259
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