Neanderthals: pioneers in the use of marine resources

Neanderthals ate mussels, fish, and seals too

International research team with participation from University of Göttingen find it wasn't just Homo sapiens who sourced food from the sea -- impact on cognitive abilities suspected

Neanderthals marine
View on the Figueira Brava cave with its three entrances. Credits: João Zilhão

Over 80,000 years ago, Neanderthals were already feeding themselves regularly on mussels, fish and other marine life. The first robust evidence of this has been found by an international research team with the participation of the University of Göttingen during an excavation in the cave of Figueira Brava in Portugal. Dr Dirk Hoffmann at the Göttingen Isotope Geology Department dated flowstone layers - calcite deposits that form like stalagmites from dripping water - using the uranium-thorium method, and was thus able to determine the age of the excavation layers to between 86,000 and 106,000 years. This means that the layers date from the period in which the Neanderthals settled in Europe. The use of the sea as a source of food at that time has so far only been attributed to anatomically modern humans (Homo sapiens) in Africa. The results of the study were published in the journal Science.

Cracked-open and burnt fragments of pincers of the edible crab (cancer pagurus). Credits: João Zilhão

The cave of Figueira Brava is located 30 kilometres south of Lisbon on the slopes of the Serra da Arrábida. Today it is located directly on the waterfront, but at that time it was up to two kilometres from the coast. The research team, coordinated by the first author of the study, Professor João Zilhão from the University of Barcelona, found that the Neanderthals living there were able to routinely harvest mussels and fish, and to hunt seals. Their diet included mussels, crustaceans and fish as well as waterfowl and marine mammals such as dolphins and seals. Food from the sea is rich in omega-3 fatty acids and other fatty acids that promote the development of brain tissue.

Until now, it has always been suspected that this consumption increased the cognitive abilities of the human populations in Africa. "Among other influences, this could explain the early appearance of a culture of modern people that used symbolic artefacts, such as body painting with ochre, the use of ornaments or the decoration of containers made of ostrich eggs with geometric motifs," explains Hoffmann. "Such behaviour reflects human's capacity for abstract thought and communication through symbols, which also contributed to the emergence of more organised and complex societies of modern humans".

Neanderthals marine
Horizontal exposure of a mussel shell bed. Credits: João Zilhão

The recent results of the excavation of Figueira Brava now confirm that if the habitual consumption of marine life played an important role in the development of cognitive abilities, this is as true for Neanderthals as it is for anatomically modern humans. Hoffmann and his co-authors previously found that Neanderthals made cave paintings in three caves on the Iberian Peninsula more than 65,000 years ago and that perforated and painted shells must also be attributed to the Neanderthals.

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Original publication: J. Zilhão et al., Last Interglacial Iberian Neandertals as fisher-hunter-gatherers, Science, 10.1126/science.aaz7943

See: https://science.sciencemag.org/cgi/doi/10.1126/science.aaz7943

 

 

Press release from the University of Göttingen

 

Science publishes study on Neanderthals as pioneers in marine resource exploitation

Neanderthals marine
Cracked-open and burnt fragments of Cancer pagurus pincer? Credits: José Paulo Ruas © João Zilhão

The journal Science has published a study led by the ICREA researcher João Zilhão, from the University of Barcelona, which presents the results of the excavation in Cueva de Figueira Brava, Portugal, which was used as shelter by Neanderthal populations about between 86 and 106 thousand years ago. The study reveals fishing and shellfish-gathering contributed significantly to the subsistence economy of the inhabitants of Figueira Brava. The relevance of this discovery lies in the fact that so far, there were not many signs of these practices as common among Neanderthals.

Regarding the consequences of this study, João Zilhão notes that "an influent model on our origins suggests the common consumption of water resources -rich in Omega3 and other fatty acids that favour the development of brain tissues- would have increased the cognitive skills of modern anatomy humans. That is, those humans who, in Africa, were contemporaries of Neanderthals and are usually regarded as the only ancestors of the current Homo sapiens". But the results of the excavation of Figueira Brava state that, if this common consumption of marine resources played an important role in the development of cognitive skills, it did so on the entire humanity, including Neanderthals, and not only the African population that spread later".

Zilhão member of the Prehistoric Studies and Research Seminar (SERP-UB), lists the research study in the line of "proof that accumulated over the last decade to show Neanderthals had a symbolic material culture". Two years ago, in 2018, the journals Science and Science Advances published two studies co-led by João Zilhão which showed that more than 65,000 years ago, Neanderthals made cave paintings in at least three caves in the Iberian Peninsula: La Pasiega, Maltravieso and Ardales (Science). Furthermore, more than 115,000 years ago, they used perforated marine shells and with ocher remains, such as the ones from Cueva de los Aviones (Murcia, Spain), as pendants and shell containers with residues of complex mixes of pigment (Science Advances). These findings, the most recent one being the one in Figueira Brava, "support a view on human evolution in which the known fossil variants, such as Neanderthals' in Europe and its African anatomy contemporaries -more similar to ours-, should be understood as remains from our ancestors, not as different higher-lower species", notes Zilhão.

Pieces of clam Ruditapes decussatus, found in the site. Credits: Mariana Nabais © João Zilhão

A 50% of the diet of the inhabitants in Figueira Brava was built by coastal resources: molluscs (limpet, mussel and clams; crustaceans (brown crab and spider crab); fish (shark, eel, sea bream, mullet); birds (mallard, common scoter, goose, cormorant, gannet, shag, auk, egret, loon), and mammals (dolphin, seal). This was completed with the hunt of deer, goats, horses, aurochs and other small preys such as tortoises. Among the other carbonised plants were olive trees, vines, fig trees and other Mediterranean climate typical species, among which the most abundant was the stone pine -its wood was used as combustible. Pine forests were exploited as fruit tree gardens: mature pines, albeit closed, were taken from the branches and stored in the cave, where the fire could open them so as to take the pines.

The study also provides other results, such as the idea of the concept of Neanderthals as cold and tundra peoples, experts on hunting mammoths, rhinos, buffalos and reindeers, is biased. "Most Neanderthals would have lived in southern regions, specially in Italy and in the Iberian Peninsula, and its lifestyle would have been very similar to those in Figueira Brava", notes Zilhão.

Another important affirmation in the study is the familiarity of humans with the sea and its resources as something older and wider than what was thought. "This could probably help explain how, between 45,000 and 50,000 years ago, humans could cross the Timor Sea to colonize Australia and New Guinea, and then, about 30,000 years ago, the closest islands to the western Pacific", says Zilhão.

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Article reference:

J. Zilhão, D. E. Angelucci, M. Araújo Igreja, L. J. Arnold, E. Badal, P. Callapez, J. L. Cardoso, F. d'Errico, J. Daura, M. Demuro, M. Deschamps, C. Dupont, S. Gabriel, D. L. Hoffmann, P. Legoinha, H. Matias, A. M. Monge Soares, M. Nabais, P. Portela, A. Queffelec, F. Rodrigues, P. Souto. "Last Interglacial Iberian Neandertals as fisher-hunter-gatherers", Science, 367, March 27, 2020.

 

Press release from the University of Barcelona

 

Neanderthals: Pioneers in the use of marine resources

Neanderthals slurping seashells by the seashore? This scene may startle those accustomed to imagining Homo neanderthalensis as a people of cold climes who hunted large herbivores. Yet an international team including scientists from three laboratories affiliated with the CNRS and partner institutions* have just demonstrated that Neanderthals hunted, fished, and gathered prodigious volumes of seafood and other marine animals: they discovered remains of molluscs, crustaceans, fish, birds, and mammals in a Portuguese cave (Figueira Brava) occupied by Neanderthals between 106,000 and 86,000 BCE. The diversity of marine food resources found there even exceeds that observed at other, much more recent Portuguese sites, dated to 9,000-7,500 BCE. The team's findings, published in Science (27 March 2020), suggest that many Neanderthal groups--living in Mediterranean climates far from the mammoth hunts of the frigid steppes--shared these dietary habitats.

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Researchers from Centre de recherche en archéologie, archéosciences, Histoire (CNRS/Université de Rennes), from De la préhistoire à l'actuel : culture, environnement et anthropologie laboratory (CNRS/Université de Bordeaux/Ministère de la Culture) and Travaux de recherches archéologiques sur les cultures, les espaces et les sociétés laboratory (CNRS/Université de Toulouse Jean Jaurès/Ministère de la Culture).

 

Press release from the CNRS


Drinking, feasting and dietary habits of Early Celts in Burgundy

Archaeology -- what the Celts drank

drinking Celts
Greek drinking cup from the Early Celtic princely burial mound Kleinaspergle. This vessel is similar to those whose pottery fragments were found in the Celtic settlement on the Mont Lassois. Credit: Württemberg State Museum, P. Frankenstein / H. Zwietasch.

Research carried out by an international team led by scientists from Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitaet (LMU) in Munich and the University of Tübingen reveals aspects of the drinking and dietary habits of the Celts, who lived in Central Europe in the first millennium BCE.

The authors of the new study analyzed 99 ceramic drinking vessels, storage and transport jars recovered during excavations at Mont Lassois in Burgundy. This was the site of a fortified 'princely' settlement of the Early Celts. The finds included pottery and bronze vessels that had been imported from Greece around 500 BCE. "This was a period of rapid change, during which vessels made in Greece and Italy reached the region north of the Alps in large numbers for the first time. It has generally been assumed that this indicates that the Celts began to imitate the Mediterranean lifestyle, and that only the elite were in a position to drink Mediterranean wine during their banquets," says LMU archaeologist Philipp Stockhammer, who led the project. "Our analyses confirm that they indeed consumed imported wines, but they also drank local beer from the Greek drinking bowls. In other words, the Celts did not simply adopt foreign traditions in their original form. Instead, they used the imported vessels and products in their own ways and for their own purposes. Moreover, the consumption of imported wine was apparently not confined to the upper echelons of society. Craftsmen too had access to wine, and the evidence suggests that they possibly used it for cooking, while the elites quaffed it in the course of their drinking parties. The study shows that intercultural contact is a dynamic process and demonstrates how easy it is for unfamiliar vessels to serve new functions and acquire new meanings."

At the University of Tübingen, Maxime Rageot analyses organic residues found in pottery from Mont Lassois. Credit: Victor S. Brigola

Chemical analysis of the food residues absorbed into the ancient pots now makes it possible to determine what people ate and drank thousands of years ago. The group of authors based at the University of Tübingen analyzed these chemical fingerprints in the material from Mont Lassois. "We identified characteristic components of olive oil and milk, imported wine and local alcoholic beverages, as well as traces of millet and beeswax," says Maxime Rageot, who performed the chemical analyses in Tübingen. "These findings show that - in addition to wine - beers brewed from millet and barley were consumed on festive or ritual occasions." His colleague Cynthianne Spiteri adds: "We are delighted to have definitively solved the old problem of whether or not the early Celts north of the Alps adopted Mediterranean drinking customs. - They did indeed, but they did so in a creative fashion!"

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The results of the study, which forms part of the BEFIM project (Meanings and Functions of Mediterranean Imports in Early Iron Age Central Europe), have just been published in the online journal PLOS ONE. The collaborative investigation was carried out by researchers from LMU Munich, the University of Tübingen, the Württemberg State Museum, the Landesamt für Denkmalpflege beim Regierungspräsidium Stuttgart, the University of Zürich and the University of Burgundy.

 

Press release from the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München

 

Early Celts in Burgundy appropriated Mediterranean products and feasting practices

Organic residue analysis of imported Mediterranean pottery fragments detects imported olive oil and wine as well as local beers

Selection of the Early Celtic vessels held in the archive of the Württemberg State Museum. Credit: Victor S. Brigola, CC-BY

Early Celts in eastern France imported Mediterranean pottery, as well as olive oil and wine, and may have appropriated Mediterranean feasting practices, according to a study published June 19, 2019 in PLOS ONE, by Maxime Rageot from Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München and the University of Tübingen, and colleagues.

Hundreds of fragments of imported Mediterranean pottery have been excavated from the Early Celtic hillfort site of Vix-Mont Lassois in Burgundy, France. This study is the first to investigate the impact of these Mediterranean imports and of Mediterranean feasting/consumption practices on Early Celtic culture (7th - 5th century BC), using molecular organic residue analysis techniques. The authors performed gas chromatography and GC-mass spectrometry analyses on organic residues extracted from 99 ceramic fragments found at Vix-Mont Lassois: some from 16 vessels imported from the Mediterranean and some from locally produced vessels from different contexts (elite, artisan, ritual, and military).

The results showed that the imported vessels were not only used for wine drinking as an appropriation of Mediterranean feasting practices, but also to drink local beers spiced with pine resins, in what appears to be an intercultural adaptation. Additional home-grown beverages were also found in local pottery, including what may have been millet-based beer, probably consumed only by low-status individuals, and barley-based beer and birch-derived beverages, which seemed to be consumed by high-status individuals. Local pine resins and plant oils were also identified. Beeswax was present in around 50% of the local pottery vessels, possibly indicating that mead was a popular fermented beverage or that the Early Celts liked to sweeten their beverages with honey.

The authors note that common foods such as wheat, barley and rye might have been present in the vessels but could not be detected by their analysis centuries later. Despite this limitation, this study sheds new light on the role of imported Mediterranean food and drink in helping shape Early Celtic feasting practices and demonstrates the potential of this type of molecular analysis also for other archaeological sites.

The authors add: "The Celts in the Early Iron Age did not just drink imported Greek wine from their imported Greek pottery. They also used the foreign vessels in their own way for drinking different kinds of local beer, as organic residue analysis of ca. 100 Early Iron Age local and Mediterranean drinking vessels from Mont Lassois (France) shows."

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Citation: Rageot M, Mötsch A, Schorer B, Bardel D, Winkler A, Sacchetti F, et al. (2019) New insights into Early Celtic consumption practices: Organic residue analyses of local and imported pottery from Vix-Mont Lassois. PLoS ONE 14(6): e0218001. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0218001

Funding: MR research was funded by the Deutsches Bundesministerium für Bildung und Forschung (Federal Minstry of Education and Research). 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.

 

Press release from the Public Library of Science


Earliest evidence of the cooking and eating of starch

Earliest evidence of the cooking and eating of starch

Early human beings who lived around 120,000 years ago in South Africa were 'ecological geniuses' who were able to exploit their environment intelligently for suitable food and medicines

starch Klasies River Cave South Africa
The Klasies River cave in the southern Cape of South Africa. Credit: Wits University

New discoveries made at the Klasies River Cave in South Africa's southern Cape, where charred food remains from hearths were found, provide the first archaeological evidence that anatomically modern humans were roasting and eating plant starches, such as those from tubers and rhizomes, as early as 120,000 years ago.

The new research by an international team of archaeologists, published in the Journal of Human Evolution, provides archaeological evidence that has previously been lacking to support the hypothesis that the duplication of the starch digestion genes is an adaptive response to an increased starch diet.

"This is very exciting. The genetic and biological evidence previously suggested that early humans would have been eating starches, but this research had not been done before," says Lead author Cynthia Larbey of the Department of Archaeology at the University of Cambridge. The work is part of a systemic multidisciplinary investigation into the role that plants and fire played in the lives of Middle Stone Age communities.

The interdisciplinary team searched for and analysed undisturbed hearths at the Klasies River archaeological site.

"Our results showed that these small ashy hearths were used for cooking food and starchy roots and tubers were clearly part of their diet, from the earliest levels at around 120,000 years ago through to 65,000 years ago," says Larbey. "Despite changes in hunting strategies and stone tool technologies, they were still cooking roots and tubers."

starch Klasies River Cave South Africa
Cynthia Larbey points to an area where parenchyma were found in 65,000 year old hearths at Klasies River Cave. Credit: Wits University

Professor Sarah Wurz from the School of Geography, Archaeology and Environmental Studies at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa (Wits University) and principal investigator of the site says the research shows that "early human beings followed a balanced diet and that they were ecological geniuses, able to exploit their environments intelligently for suitable foods and perhaps medicines".

By combining cooked roots and tubers as a staple with protein and fats from shellfish, fish, small and large fauna, these communities were able to optimally adapt to their environment, indicating great ecological intelligence as early as 120 000 years ago.

"Starch diet isn't something that happens when we started farming, but rather, is as old as humans themselves," says Larbey. Farming in Africa only started in the last 10 000 years of human existence.

Humans living in South Africa 120 000 years ago formed and lived in small bands.

"Evidence from Klasies River, where several human skull fragments and two maxillary fragments dating 120 000 years ago occur, show that humans living in that time period looked like modern humans of today. However, they were somewhat more robust," says Wurz.

Klasies River is a very famous early human occupation site on the Cape coast of South Africa excavated by Wurz, who, along with Susan Mentzer of the Senckenberg Institute and Eberhard Karls Universität Tübingen, investigated the small (c. 30cm in diameter) hearths.

The research to look for the plant materials in the hearths was inspired by Prof Hilary Deacon, who passed on the Directorship of the Klasies River site on to Wurz. Deacon has done groundbreaking work at the site and in the 1990's pointed out that there would be plant material in and around the hearths. However, at the time, the micro methods were not available to test this hypothesis.

The Klasies River cave in the southern Cape of South Africa. Credit: Wits University

Press release from the University of the Witwatersrand


Forgotten history of tobacco, caffeines, chocolate, sugar, and opium set to be revealed by historians

Forgotten history of tobacco, caffeines, chocolate, sugar, and opium set to be revealed by historians

  • Historians aim to understand how world’s most widely consumed intoxicants were first trafficked and consumed in Western Europe
  • Led by the University of Sheffield, a team of European researchers will explore how tobacco, caffeines, chocolate, sugar and opium were first introduced into European cities in the 17th century and how their consumption transformed urban public spaces
  • Researchers aim to understand how these commodities became such a common part of people’s lifestyle and diet in order to shine light on intoxicants and their impact on society today
  • Project to collaborate with historians at leading European universities as well as European museums, schools and the UN
intoxicants tobacco caffeines chocolate sugar opium tea coffee
From the seventeenth century ‘new’ intoxicants like tobacco, caffeines, cacao, sugar, and opium flowed into north-western Europe through a network of Atlantic, North Sea and Baltic ports. Elias Galli (1650–1714), View of Hamburg or Stadtansicht von Hamburg, circa 1680, oil on canvas, Hamburg Museum, Hamburg, Public Domain

Historians led from the University of Sheffield are set to reveal how Europe ‘took to soft drugs’ between the 16th and 19th centuries as part of a major new comparative research project funded by the Humanities European Research Area (HERA).

Leading researchers based at Oldenburg, Sheffield, Stockholm and Utrecht will examine how tobacco, tea, coffee, chocolate, sugar and opium were first introduced and consumed by people in European cities in the 17th century and how they have become such a common part of people’s diet and lifestyle.

Findings from the project will shine new light on the politics of consumption, the ethics of taste, and the complicated ways in which we think about intoxicants and addictive substances today.

Focusing on four European cities – Amsterdam, Hamburg, London and Stockholm – the study will recover how ‘new’ intoxicants were first sold in traditional public spaces, such as apothecaries and grocery shops, and how their sale and consumption transformed public behaviours and practices.

How these ‘new intoxicants’ created new public spaces, such as the coffeehouse, and the impact these had on society and politics will also be studied.

 

The research will be led by Professor Phil Withington from the University’s Department of History in collaboration with historians from universities in Germany (Prof. Dr. Dagmar Freist, Oldenburg), the Netherlands (Prof. Dr. Toine Pieters, Utrecht), and Sweden (Prof. Dr. Leos Müller, Stockholm).

The research team based at Sheffield will trace the chronology and volume of new intoxicants coming into London from the first decades of traffic in tobacco (c.1600) to the onset of the opium wars (c. 1850). It will examine the impact of these commodities on public spaces and social practices by sampling a variety of records every 50 years across the period – from customs and taxation records, to legal and probate records, to ‘ego’ documents, to the records of visual and popular print culture, to material objects and artefacts.

This research will enable comparison with trends in Amsterdam, Hamburg and Stockholm. It will also form the basis of knowledge partnerships with the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, with Sheffield schools, and with the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-HABITAT).

Professor Phil Withington, said: ‘It is a great honour to be part of this collaborative project between leading historians at Sheffield, Oldenburg, Stockholm, and Utrecht, and to work closely with curators, teachers, and those involved in dealing with intoxicant-related issues.

“The funding body HERA has given us a fantastic opportunity not only to conduct new and exciting research but also to show how the past can illuminate contemporary problems and issues. This is the European part of a global story that is easily forgotten. We take our tobacco, our caffeines and our chocolate for granted, but how these intoxicants became part of European diets reveals so much about social identities, about politics, and about how tastes are shaped, valued, and criminalised in the past and the present.”

The researchers in the project are set to use their findings to launch a digital exhibition charting the history of intoxicants with Dutch, German, Swedish and UK museums.

The new intoxicants became an integral part of the politics of urban public space across Europe. Customs & manners of ye Englyshe people. How ye younge menne doe smoke. Englishmen smoking in a city street, thereby causing a nuisance to women. Etching.
Wellcome Images Iconographic Collections, Rock & Co., CC BY 4.0

The research teams will also work with schools in their respective countries to raise awareness about new and old intoxicants and to think about how we can learn from the past. To this end, an international conference for schools will be held in Amsterdam as part of the project.

Researchers will use their findings to collaborate with the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-HABITAT) and Mainline Foundation to help inform drug prevention, health and wellbeing initiatives.

The project is one of 20 new projects funded by HERA.

Intoxicating Spaces: The Impact of New Intoxicants on Public Spaces, Consumption and Sociability in North Western Europe, c. 1600 – c. 1850, will be led by Professor Phil Withington from the University of Sheffield in collaboration with Professor Dagmar Freist from Carl von Ossietzky University Oldenburg, Professor Leos Müller from Stockholm University and Professor A. (Toine) Pieters from Utrecht University. The project starts on May 31 2019 and runs for 25 months.

For more information on the project, visit: www.dhi.ac.uk/projects/intoxicating-spaces

The ‘Intoxicating Spaces’ website goes live on 1 June 2019 at www.intoxicatingspaces.org

For details of the HERA programme of projects see http://heranet.info/

The University of Sheffield’s Department of History is one of the largest and most active centres for teaching and historical research in the UK. Its historians are engaged in cutting edge research in a huge variety of fields which range from the first century right through to the 21st, with particular strengths in British, European, African and American history.

The diversity of the department’s research feeds into a vibrant and varied curriculum which allows history students to pursue their interests across both space and time, from ancient Rome to the modern Middle East, and from 15th century human sacrifice to 20th century genocide.

For more information on study and research opportunities in the University of Sheffield’s Department of History, visit: https://www.sheffield.ac.uk/history/index

Additional information

The University of Sheffield

With almost 29,000 of the brightest students from over 140 countries, learning alongside over 1,200 of the best academics from across the globe, the University of Sheffield is one of the world’s leading universities.

A member of the UK’s prestigious Russell Group of leading research-led institutions, Sheffield offers world-class teaching and research excellence across a wide range of disciplines.

Unified by the power of discovery and understanding, staff and students at the university are committed to finding new ways to transform the world we live in.

Sheffield is the only university to feature in The Sunday Times 100 Best Not-For-Profit Organisations to Work For 2018 and for the last eight years has been ranked in the top five UK universities for Student Satisfaction by Times Higher Education.

Sheffield has six Nobel Prize winners among former staff and students and its alumni go on to hold positions of great responsibility and influence all over the world, making significant contributions in their chosen fields.

Global research partners and clients include Boeing, Rolls-Royce, Unilever, AstraZeneca, Glaxo SmithKline, Siemens and Airbus, as well as many UK and overseas government agencies and charitable foundations.

 

 

Press release from the University of Sheffield


Cenomani Gauls Verona Seminario Vescovile

Funerary customs, diet, and social behavior in a pre-Roman Italian Celtic community

Funerary customs, diet, and social behavior in a pre-Roman Italian Celtic community

Cenomani Gauls Verona Seminario Vescovile
Localization of main Celtic necropolises of Italy and examples of burials from SV. Credit: Laffranchi et al, 2019

Analysis of human remains from a Pre-Roman Celtic cemetery in Italy shows variations in funerary treatment between individuals that could be related to social status, but these variations were not reflected by differences in their living conditions. Zita Laffranchi of Universidad de Granada, Spain, and colleagues present these new findings in the open access journal PLOS ONE on April 17, 2019.

Archeological and written evidence have provided scant insight into social organization among the Cenomani Gauls, Celtic people who began to spread into Northern Italy in the 4th century BC. In a preliminary step to address this knowledge gap, Laffranchi and colleagues analyzed remains from Verona - Seminario Vescovile, a Cenomani burial site that was used between the 3rd and 1st centuries BC.

Seminario Vescovile features some variety in funerary approaches. Some individuals were buried face up, face down, or on their sides; some with animals; and some with varying amounts and types of objects, such as pottery and decorations. Focusing on 125 individuals buried at the site, the researchers set out to explore links between funerary treatment, age, sex, and diet--the first such study for Cenomani Gauls.

Bone analysis revealed different carbon and nitrogen isotope levels between sexes, indicating that men and women at Verona-Seminario Vescovile had different diets. Tooth analysis suggests that the population had higher rates of dental enamel defects than did other Pre-Roman and Celtic groups of the Italian Peninsula, pointing to higher physiological stress levels during childhood.

The researchers were surprised to find no differences between sexes in funerary treatment. They also found no links between funerary differences and isotope measurements or enamel defects. Increased age was somewhat related to increased number of grave objects, but age and burial position were not linked. These findings suggest the existence of weak social differentiation that could have influenced funerary treatment, but that, apart from different diets for men and women, individuals in the group shared similar living conditions.

The authors conclude that the individuals they analyzed were likely members of a homogeneous and potentially low-status group within the original population. Still, they call for extensive additional research to clarify the implications of their findings.

The authors add: "This is the first combined study of diet, developmental stress, and funerary patterns in a Celtic community from the Italian peninsula: the little known Cenomani (North-Eastern Italy)."

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Citation: Laffranchi Z, Cavalieri Manasse G, Salzani L, Milella M (2019) Patterns of funerary variability, diet, and developmental stress in a Celtic population from NE Italy (3rd-1st c BC). PLoS ONE 14(4): e0214372. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0214372

Funding: The authors received no specific funding for this work.

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

 

Press release from Public Library of Science (PLOS)