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Isotopes, Plants, and Reservoir Effects: Case Study from the Caspian Steppe Bronze Age

Natalia Ivanovna Shishlina, E Zazovskaya, J van der Plicht, V Sevastyanov

Abstract


Bronze Age human and animal bone collagen from several steppe Bronze Age cultures (i.e. Early Catacomb, East and West Manych Catacomb, and Lola cultures) shows large variations in δ13C and δ15N values. In general, we observed that the older the sample, the lower the δ13C and δ15N values. We hypothesize that more positive values of δ13C and δ15N are caused by change in diet and a more arid climate. For ancient sheep during drier periods of the Early Catacomb, East and West Manych Catacomb, and Lola cultures, we observed 2 groups with different C and N isotopic compositions, reflecting consumption of different types of fodder. During periods of aridization, C4 and C3 plants with high δ15N values appeared in the vegetation, also influencing bone collagen values. Human bones show reservoir effects, caused by aquatic diet components. These effects can be quantified by paired dating of human bone and associated terrestrial samples. Reservoir corrections have revised chronologies for the region. Some paired dates do not reveal reservoir effects. This can be explained in 2 alternative ways. One is that the human diet did not include aquatic components; rather, the diet was based on C3 vegetation with high δ15N values (13–15‰), and flesh/milk of domesticated animals. An alternative explanation is that humans consumed food from freshwater resources without reservoir effects.

DOI: 10.2458/azu_js_rc.v54i3–4.16119


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