Strong bias towards carcass product processing at Neolithic settlements in northern Greece revealed through absorbed lipid residues of archaeological pottery
Helen L. Whelton, Mélanie Roffet-Salque, Kostas Kotsakis, Dushka Urem-Kotsou & Richard P. Evershed Quaternary International 496 (2018): 127-139
The emergence of agriculture in Greece denotes the start of the Neolithic in Europe, however, little is known about dietary practices in the region. Archaeobotanical and zooarchaeological remains indicate reliance on cereals and pulses, together with meat-based subsistence practices, including sheep/goat and pig husbandry. Preliminary investigations of dietary practices obtained through lipid residue analysis of pottery of a small number of sites in the region have confirmed primarily carcass products were processed. The weak evidence for dairy products contrasts with finding of dairy-based subsistence strategies in NW Anatolia, which is surprising given its close proximity. This paper aims to build on this earlier work to provide a more detailed model for the dietary changes throughout the region, both chronologically and spatially. To achieve this >900 potsherds from 11 sites spanning the Early (EN) to Late Neolithic (LN) periods from the north of Greece have been investigated using the lipid biomarker approach involving high temperature-gas chromatography (HT-GC), GC-mass spectrometry (GC-MS) and GC-combustion-isotope ratio MS (GC-C-IRMS) to determine the nature and origins of organic residues preserved in the fabric of pottery vessels. Lipid residue analysis of pottery vessels revealed ruminant and non-ruminant carcass fats comprise the majority of animal fat types identified, reflecting the high abundance of sheep/goat and pig in faunal assemblages. The emergence of dairying in northern Greece can now be dated to the site of EN/Middle Neolithic (MN) Ritini (5900/5700 – 5500 cal. B.C.E.), however, the frequency of dairy fat residues was low, overall, indicating that dairying was not intensively practised. The δ13C values of the fatty acids extracted from potsherds reflect a predominately C3 diet, however, in the EN and MN there is greater variation with some lipids exhibiting enriched δ13C values indicating a significant abundance of C4 plants in the ecosystem(s) covered by the study. Significantly, plant-derived n-alkanes (C22 to C34) detected in pottery vessels provide the first evidence for plant processing identified in lipid residues from ceramic vessels in Neolithic northern Greece, supporting the abundant archaeobotanical evidence for the processing of cereals and pulses.