Isotopic analyses link the lives of Late Neolithic individuals to burial location in Spain

September 27, 2017

An isotopic analysis of megalithic graves and caves in Spain may suggest the existence of a degree of differentiation in the lifeways of people buried in these different funerary sites, according to a study published September 27, 2017 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Teresa Fernández-Crespo and Rick Schulting from the University of the Basque Country, Spain, and the University of Oxford, UK.

Previous research on the burial practices of the Western European Neolithic has revealed variation in burial location and treatment, but their significance is difficult to interpret. To further investigate the meaning behind different burial practices within the same location and period, the authors of the present study analyzed the bone collagen carbon and nitrogen isotope measurements of 166 individuals from a series of broadly contemporary Late Neolithic (3500 to 2900 cal BC) mortuary monuments and caves, closely situated together in north-central Spain.

The researchers' isotopic analysis of both megalithic graves and caves suggests a similar C3 plant-based human diet, mostly consisting of wheat and barley, as well as a substantial amount of protein from cattle and sheep. However, the study surprisingly reveals significant carbon isotope differences between people interred in both funerary site-types. These differences seem to be correlated with elevation, temperature, and precipitation, implying that land use was partitioned on a surprisingly local scale. The authors propose two possible explanations. The first is that this division of land could indicate different socioeconomic classes within the same community, with the lower classes being interred in caves with restricted access to agricultural resources, while the individuals of higher status in the community were buried in monumental graves whose construction would involve a considerable investment of labor. Alternatively, they also consider the possibility that this partitioning of the landscape may involve different populations performing different funerary practices and following distinct subsistence economies in some respect.

Further research on tooth dentine and enamel will explore the age at which the isotopic differences first appeared and investigate different patterns of mobility and landscape-use in the study area. This study offers new insights into different mortuary practices and specifically how they related to lifeways, particularly dietary and subsistence practices, and implications for the emergence of socioeconomic inequality in the Western European Neolithic.

"Using carbon and nitrogen stable isotope analysis of human and animal remains, our study has identified meaningful differences between those buried in caves and megalithic graves in the Late Neolithic of north-central Spain," says Teresa Fernández-Crespo. "This implies that, despite living in close proximity, these communities had distinct lifeways involving a partitioning of the landscape."
In your coverage please use this URL to provide access to the freely available article in PLOS ONE:

Citation: Fernández-Crespo T, Schulting RJ (2017) Living different lives: Early social differentiation identified through linking mortuary and isotopic variability in Late Neolithic/ Early Chalcolithic north-central Spain. PLoS ONE 12(9): e0177881.

Funding: The research was supported and financed by the Basque Government (POS_2013_1_147; POS_2014_2_24; POS_2015_2_0001; IT542/10), the Spanish Ministry of Science and Research (HAR2011-26956) and the University of the Basque Country (UPV/EHU) (UFI11/09). The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.

Competing Interests: The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.


Related Carbon Articles from Brightsurf:

The biggest trees capture the most carbon: Large trees dominate carbon storage in forests
A recent study examining carbon storage in Pacific Northwest forests demonstrated that although large-diameter trees (21 inches) only comprised 3% of total stems, they accounted for 42% of the total aboveground carbon storage.

Carbon storage from the lab
Researchers at the University of Freiburg established the world's largest collection of moss species for the peat industry and science

Carbon-carbon covalent bonds far more flexible than presumed
A Hokkaido University research group has successfully demonstrated that carbon-carbon (C-C) covalent bonds expand and contract flexibly in response to light and heat.

Metal wires of carbon complete toolbox for carbon-based computers
Carbon-based computers have the potential to be a lot faster and much more energy efficient than silicon-based computers, but 2D graphene and carbon nanotubes have proved challenging to turn into the elements needed to construct transistor circuits.

Cascades with carbon dioxide
Carbon dioxide (CO(2)) is not just an undesirable greenhouse gas, it is also an interesting source of raw materials that are valuable and can be recycled sustainably.

Two-dimensional carbon networks
Lithium-ion batteries usually contain graphitic carbons as anode materials. Scientists have investigated the carbonic nanoweb graphdiyne as a novel two-dimensional carbon network for its suitability in battery applications.

Can wood construction transform cities from carbon source to carbon vault?
A new study by researchers and architects at Yale and the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research predicts that a transition to timber-based wood products in the construction of new housing, buildings, and infrastructure would not only offset enormous amounts of carbon emissions related to concrete and steel production -- it could turn the world's cities into a vast carbon sink.

Investigation of oceanic 'black carbon' uncovers mystery in global carbon cycle
An unexpected finding published today in Nature Communications challenges a long-held assumption about the origin of oceanic black coal, and introduces a tantalizing new mystery: If oceanic black carbon is significantly different from the black carbon found in rivers, where did it come from?

First fully rechargeable carbon dioxide battery with carbon neutrality
Researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago are the first to show that lithium-carbon dioxide batteries can be designed to operate in a fully rechargeable manner, and they have successfully tested a lithium-carbon dioxide battery prototype running up to 500 consecutive cycles of charge/recharge processes.

How and when was carbon distributed in the Earth?
A magma ocean existing during the core formation is thought to have been highly depleted in carbon due to its high-siderophile (iron loving) behavior.

Read More: Carbon News and Carbon Current Events is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to