Reconstruction of human subsistence and husbandry strategies from the Iberian Early Neolithic: A stable isotope approach

Am J Phys Anthropol. 2018 Oct;167(2):257-271. doi: 10.1002/ajpa.23622. Epub 2018 Aug 20.


Objectives: The Early Neolithic involved an important social and economic shift that can be tested not only with the material culture, but also through biomolecular approaches. The Iberian Peninsula presents few Early Neolithic sites where fauna and humans can be analyzed together from an isotopic perspective. Here we present an isotopic study on the site of Cueva de Chaves as an example for understanding the dietary and economical changes that took place during Early Neolithic in Iberia.

Material and methods: Here we apply carbon and nitrogen stable isotope analysis to bone collagen from 4 humans and 64 faunal samples from 14 different species. The large dataset belongs to the same unique chrono-cultural context secured by 20 radiocarbon dates. Three direct new radiocarbon dates were carried out on the human remains analyzed.

Results: Faunal isotope values show no significant differences between wild and domestic herbivores, although the latter have more homogeneous values. Domestic pigs, potentially considered omnivorous, also show signatures of a herbivore diet. Human isotopic results show a diet mainly based on terrestrial C3 resources and possibly high meat consumption. The only individual found buried with a special funerary treatment presents a slightly different protein intake, when taking into account the long contemporaneous baseline analyzed.

Discussion: Similar values between wild and domestic species could be the result of common feeding resources and/or grazing on the same parts of the landscape. The herbivore diet seen amongst domestic pigs rules out feeding on household leftovers. High meat consumption by humans would support the hypothesis of the existence of a specialized animal husbandry management community in which agriculture was not intensively developed. Our results suggest that the development of agricultural practices and animal husbandry were not necessarily associated together in the early stages of the Western Mediterranean Neolithic.

Keywords: animal management; carbon and nitrogen stable isotopes; cardial; domestication; funerary practices; radiocarbon dating.

Publication types

  • Historical Article
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animal Husbandry / history*
  • Animals
  • Anthropology, Physical
  • Bone and Bones / chemistry*
  • Carbon Isotopes / analysis*
  • Carnivory
  • Collagen / chemistry*
  • Diet / history*
  • Dogs / physiology
  • Herbivory
  • History, Ancient
  • Humans
  • Nitrogen Isotopes / analysis*
  • Spain
  • Swine / physiology


  • Carbon Isotopes
  • Nitrogen Isotopes
  • Collagen