Palaeoenvironmental modelling of δ 13C and δ 15N 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 journalArticlepeer-review

12 Citations (Scopus)


RATIONALE: Carbon (δ 13C) and nitrogen (δ 15N) 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 δ 13C and δ 15N 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 δ 13C and δ 15N values in the Outer Hebrides and Orkney. Samples from the Neolithic to the Norse period were analysed to assess temporal and geographical variations in δ 13C and δ 15N values, in addition to determining the contribution of marine foods to the diet of local fauna. RESULTS: A δ 15N shift of 1‰ was observed between the Outer Hebrides and Orkney in the Neolithic and Iron Age. A geographical variation in δ 13C values was observed in the Norse period between Orkney and the Outer Hebrides. Temporal fluctuations in δ 13C and δ 15N 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 δ 13C and δ 15N values geographically and temporally is crucial in our interpretation of human dietary behaviour.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2399-2406
Number of pages8
JournalRapid Communications in Mass Spectrometry
Issue number20
Early online date14 Sept 2012
Publication statusPublished - 30 Oct 2012

Bibliographical note

The authors would like to express thanks to NERC for funding this research (Grant number NE/F021054/1) and the NERC Life Sciences Mass Spectrometry Facility in East Kilbride for their financial assistance with the analytical research. Great thanks go to Alison Sheridan at the National Museum of Scotland for all of her help with sourcing samples. Thanks also go to Niall Sharples for his assistance in sampling material from Bornais, to Tom Dawson for providing permission to sample faunal remains from Baleshare, to Mike and Karen Parker-Pearson for assistance in sampling Cille Pheadair, and to Mark Elliot from Stornoway for enabling access to the Dun Vulan archive. The authors would also like to thank Rhiannon Stevens and Tamsin O’Connell for their help with analysing some of the Bornais samples, and to Richard Madgick and the Cardiff Bioarchaeology class of 2010 for their hard work extracting collagen from Bornais specimens. Adrienne Powell was invaluable with her help in tracking down Cladh Hallanand Bornais samples.


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