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

Bibliographical note

Many thanks to University of Aberdeen Museums for providing access to the Knowe of Rowiegar samples; to Jackie Brown (Aberdeen), Annabell Reiner (MPI-EVA) and Sven Steinbrenner (MPI-EVA) for technical assistance; and to Jean-Jacques Hublin (MPI-EVA), and the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology for analytical support. Thanks to Caroline Wickham-Jones and Gordon Noble (Aberdeen) for comments on earlier versions of this manuscript. This research was carried out as part of the undergraduate MA degree of CG in the Department of Archaeology, University of Aberdeen. Thanks to the Arts and Humanities Research Council (grant: AH/K006029/1) for financial support to CG during the preparation of this manuscript. Finally, the authors would like to thank the reviewers for their valuable and constructive comments on this manuscript.

This research did not receive any specific grant from funding agencies in the public, commercial, or not-for-profit sectors


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


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