Reconstructing diet at the Neolithic stalled cairn of the Knowe of Rowiegar, Rousay, Orkney, using stable isotope analysis

Ciara Gigleux, Michael P. Richards, Neil Curtis, Margaret Hutchison, Kate Britton

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In this study, human remains from the Neolithic stalled cairn of the Knowe of Rowiegar, Rousay, Orkney (3620–2880 cal BC, 95.4% probability), were analysed for bone collagen stable carbon (δ13C) and nitrogen (δ15N) isotope ratios in order to determine the dietary adaptations of individuals buried at the site, particularly the contribution of marine protein in the diet. Collagen was extracted from bone from 13 individuals (11 males, 1 female, and 1 sub-adult), and stable isotope data generated were compared with previously-published Neolithic Orcadian faunal data, and with human and animal bone collagen isotope data from other published British Neolithic sites. The results from the Knowe of Rowiegar suggest that the dietary protein of those buried at the site was largely terrestrial in origin, which is similar to other British Neolithic bone collagen datasets, albeit with the possible minor inclusion of marine protein. Intra-group comparison highlights the potentially different dietary habits of the single female and sub-adult individuals sampled from the site compared to the interred males. Geographical variations in both humans and animals (particularly in nitrogen isotope ratios) across Britain are examined, and the consumption of marine fish and the influence of herbivore baseline variability in the study of Neolithic human diet are explored.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)272-280
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Archaeological Science: Reports
Early online date4 Apr 2017
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2017



  • carbon
  • nitrogen
  • isotopes
  • bone collagen
  • palaeodiet
  • Neolithic
  • coastal subsistence

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