Rikke Maring - New PhD at the Department of Archeaology

As of September 1st 2016, Rikke Maring is enrolled as a PhD student with the project: On the Stone Age Menu

23.09.2016 | Camilla Dimke

In the spring of 2015 I finished a M.A. from Aarhus University in Prehistoric Archaeology and I have just handed in my dissertation in BioArchaeology (MSc) at University of York, England. Concurrently, I have worked as student assistant at Aarhus AMS Centre.

My Ph.D. is funded by the Aarhus University Research Foundation through a starting grant awarded to my primary supervisor for the project entitled Danish and European Diets in Time (DEDiT).

My Ph.D. project aims to investigate human dietary adaptations in southern Scandinavia during the Mesolithic and Neolithic, through the application of stable isotope analyses on bone collagen. This method, when integrated fully with other sources of archaeological data, allows us to reconstruct the proportion of food originating from different ecosystems (i.e. terrestrial, freshwater and marine) and the quantity of animal versus plant protein in the diet. These are key aspects to address to reach a better understanding of the transition from a hunter-gatherer to a predominantly agricultural way of life that took place in Europe between the Mesolithic and the Neolithic. My project aims not only to increase the number of humans for which isotopic data are available, but also to improve the geochemical database for the trophic webs on which we base our interpretations and to achieve more detailed dietary reconstructions based on a better integration of isotopic and archaeological data.  

 In the early 1980s, carbon isotope analysis on human remains provided new means to investigate the transition between Mesolithic and Neolithic cultures in southern Scandinavia. From being based on the artefactual evidence alone, analysing the actual human beings gave new insights into an apparent, very abrupt shift in the diet. At the very earliest onset of the Neolithic period a change is visible, where a high intake of marine resources in the Mesolithic is substituted by an almost exclusively terrestrial food consumption in the Neolithic.

When performing dietary isotope analysis on human remains in archaeological research, interpretations are based on an isotopic baseline of reference samples. The isotopic baseline should preferably represent all of the possible food sources of the culture period, however, the reference samples currently available from the Mesolithic and Neolithic periods are not representative or sufficient to make more detailed assumptions about Mesolithic or Neolithic diet. This research project seeks to identify exactly which areas would gain from more reference samples, and undertake additional analyses in these areas.

The project will add a component of more detailed dietary analysis to the Mesolithic and Neolithic in Southern Scandinavia, both in terms of the individual human being, the different archaeological sites and the development over time and between cultures. It will provide a better understanding of the transition between the Mesolithic and the Neolithic and deliver new insights into how the introduction of farming affected the diet.

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