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Landscape opening and herding strategies: Carbon isotope analyses of herbivore bone collagen from the Neolithic and Bronze Age lakeshore site of Zurich-Mozartstrasse, Switzerland.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

  • Thomas Doppler
  • Claudia Gerling
  • Corinna Knipper
  • Thomas Kuhn
  • Moritz E Lehmann
  • Alistair Pike
  • Jorg Schibler
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)18-28
Number of pages11
JournalQuaternary International
Issue number436
Early online date1 Oct 2015
DateE-pub ahead of print - 1 Oct 2015
DatePublished (current) - 1 Apr 2017


Carbon isotope analysis (δ13C) was performed on collagen extracted from 54 domestic cattle (Bos taurus) and 20 red deer (Cervus elaphus) bones from the Neolithic (3913–2586 BC) and Bronze Age (1950–950 cal. BC) layers of the lakeshore site Zurich-Mozartstrasse located in the lower Lake Zurich basin, Switzerland. We observed shifts in the δ13C of both domestic cattle and red deer over two millennia. Mean δ13C values of red deer changed from −24.1 ± 0.7‰ to −22.5 ± 0.3‰, while mean δ13C values of domestic cattle showed minor changes from −22.7 ± 1.3‰ to −22.1 ± 0.3‰. Our data suggest that in the early 4th millennium BC the landscape was densely forested with red deer feeding in closed habitats and cattle grazing in more open landscapes. Forest was also a food resource for some young cattle as indicated by the lower δ13C values of non-adult relative to adult animals. This points to a greater diversity of herding strategies and feeding techniques compared to the later periods. The landscape was still rather forested towards the mid-3rd millennium BC, with no obvious changes in the habitat use of the large herbivores. However, the carbon isotopes suggest a clearly reduced forest cover in the 2nd millennium BC with red deer using similar open feeding grounds as domestic cattle. Our study demonstrates that the stable carbon isotope composition of archeological bone material from large herbivores can provide integrative constraints on paleoenvironmental and vegetation changes, prehistoric animal management and land-use.

    Research areas

  • Prehistory, Land-use, Environmental change, Canopy effect, Domestic cattle, Red deer


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