Immediate replacement of fishing with dairying by the earliest farmers of the northeast Atlantic archipelagos

Lucy J. E. Cramp, Jennifer R. Jones, Alison Sheridan, Jessica Smyth, Helen Whelton, Jacqui Mulville, Niall Sharples, Richard P. Evershed (Corresponding Author)

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The appearance of farming, from its inception in the Near East around 12000 years ago, finally reached the northwestern extremes of Europe by the fourth millennium BC or shortly thereafter. Various models have been invoked to explain the Neolithization of northern Europe; however, resolving these different scenarios has proved problematic due to poor faunal preservation and the lack of specificity achievable for commonly applied proxies. Here, we present new multi-proxy evidence, which qualitatively and quantitatively maps subsistence change in the northeast Atlantic archipelagos from the Late Mesolithic into the Neolithic and beyond. A model involving significant retention of hunter-gatherer-fisher influences was tested against one of the dominant adoptions of farming using a novel suite of lipid biomarkers, including dihydroxy fatty acids, v-(o-alkylphenyl)-alkanoic acids and stable carbon isotope signatures of individual fatty acids preserved in cooking vessels. These new findings, together with archaeozoo-logical and human skeletal collagen bulk stable carbon isotope proxies, unequivocally confirm rejection of marine resources by early farmers coinciding with the adoption of intensive dairy farming. This pattern of Neolithization contrasts markedly to that occurring contemporaneously in the Baltic, suggesting that geographically distinct ecological and cultural influences dictated the evolution of subsistence practices at this critical phase of European prehistory.

Original languageEnglish
Article number20132822
Number of pages8
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1780
Early online date12 Feb 2014
Publication statusPublished - 7 Apr 2014


  • Archaeology
  • Biomarkers
  • Lipids
  • Neolithic diet
  • Pottery
  • Stable carbon isotopes


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