The Evolution of Dietary Diversity and the Transition to Agriculture in Europe
Principal investigator: Dr Robert Power, UCD School of Archaeology
The ‘Evolution of Dietary Diversity and the Transition to Agriculture in Europe’ project explores the evolution of diet during the Neolithic period and how it developed and spatially varied across Europe. Although we have datasets that provide rich insights into the nature of cereal and herding economies in Neolithic Europe, uncertainties remain, particularly concerning foods which are often missing from these datasets and the archaeological record more broadly. To provide a richer picture of dietary change, this project is incorporating microscopic analysis of Neolithic human dental calculus to reveal the consumption of leafy greens, tubers, birds and even invertebrates, which is being bolstered with cutting-edge palaeoproteomics and organic residue analysis of dental calculus to enable detection of molecular markers of a wide variety of poorly understood early foods. To optimise the precious archaeological samples in the project, we are making efforts to develop a unified extraction protocol combining each method, reducing sample loss. The results from the new analysis of key Irish archaeological sites will be integrated within a meta-analysis in other projects from southeast-to-northwest Europe, including France, Iberia and the Balkans. This module will be paired with a literature-based ethnographic model. This involves assembling a cross-cultural transect of dietary diversity in foragers and small-scale farmers across different environmental parameters to provide a context to understand and calibrate the patterns that we see in Neolithic societies.
This project is supported by the Irish Research Council