Palaeoenvironmental modelling of d13C and d15N values in the North Atlantic Islands: understanding past marine resource use

J. R. Jones*, J. A. Mulville, R. A. R. McGill, R. P. Evershed

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

11 Citations (Scopus)


RATIONALE Carbon (d13C) and nitrogen (d15N) analysis has been extensively used to investigate the importance of marine foods in the diet of archaeological populations in the North Atlantic Islands; however, few faunal studies exist to aid the interpretation of results. Palaeoenvironmental modelling of d13C and d15N values is crucial in determining whether changes in the stable isotope values are a result of dietary change, rather than temporal or geographical fluctuations in carbon and nitrogen. Investigating faunal dietary behaviour can provide an insight into past foddering and land management strategies. METHODS Detailed sampling of wild and domestic species for bulk collagen analysis was undertaken in order to characterise geographical variations in d13C and d15N values in the Outer Hebrides and Orkney. Samples from the Neolithic to the Norse period were analysed to assess temporal and geographical variations in d13C and d15N values, in addition to determining the contribution of marine foods to the diet of local fauna. RESULTS A d15N shift of 1 parts per thousand was observed between the Outer Hebrides and Orkney in the Neolithic and Iron Age. A geographical variation in d13C values was observed in the Norse period between Orkney and the Outer Hebrides. Temporal fluctuations in d13C and d15N values demonstrate variations in foddering practices of sheep in the Outer Hebrides. Pig specimens from the Outer Hebrides demonstrated evidence of marine food consumption in the Iron Age. CONCLUSIONS Faunal dietary behaviour can act as a vital indicator of the importance of marine resources in the past. Characterisation of faunal d13C and d15N values geographically and temporally is crucial in our interpretation of human dietary behaviour. Copyright (c) 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2399-2406
Number of pages8
JournalRapid Communications in Mass Spectrometry
Issue number20
Publication statusPublished - 30 Oct 2012


  • C-13/C-12 RATIOS
  • DIET
  • N-15

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