Using Palaeoproteomics and Lipids to investigate the Evolution of Dietary Diversity and the Transition to Agriculture in Ireland
PhD Candidate: Meaghan Mackie
Supervisor: Dr Robert Power, with co-supervisors Dr Meriel McClatchie, Dr Beatrice Demarchi
(University of Turin), and Dr Cynthianne Spiteri (University of Turin)
Funded By: Science Foundation Ireland and the Irish Research Council
The transition to the Neolithic and the food producing way of life is commonly understood to be amongst the most fundamental changes in Irish prehistory. Archaeobotany and zooarchaeology can be used to elucidate patterns in the past in plant and animal use, respectively. However, well preserved assemblages of either line of evidence are comparatively scarce - with many spatial and chronological biases. Faunal remains are often absent in areas of acidic soils, while plant remains are often absent in areas with disturbance and are limited to those that readily carbonise. Thus, these methods are limited and are therefore silent on resources that could have comprised large swathes of the economy.
In order to better understand ancient diets, recent studies have turned to the potential of ancient dental calculus, or the mineralisation of plaque biofilm created by a wide range of microscopic organisms residing in the oral cavity. During the mineralisation process, many elements get trapped in the matrix, coming from ingested food, inhaled particles, the oral microbiome, and the human host. Scientific analysis such as palaeoproteomics and lipidomics can be used to examine the protein or lipid component of those trapped elements, respectively. By examining the calculus of individuals, during and after the Neolithic transition to agriculture, we can directly observe dietary elements consumed and their trends over this period of change in Ireland. In addition, by examining proteins and lipids, in conjunction with a wider project examining the microbotanical remains, we can gain unprecedented knowledge about diet and economy in the Neolithic, as these examinations have not been made on Irish materials before.