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Neolithic diet at the Brochtorff Circle, Malta

  • M.P. Richards (a1), R.E.M. Hedges (a2), I. Walton (a2), S. Stoddart (a3) and C. Malone (a4)...

Abstract

From Neolithic Malta, there is evidence of increasing population size accompanied by increasingly elaborate material culture, including the famous megalithic architecture. Stoddart et al. (1993) argued that social tensions and controls increased as food resources diminished. One important requirement of this argument is that the Neolithic inhabitants of Malta depended entirely on domesticated plants and animals for subsistence and therefore, with increased population sizes, the poor agricultural potential of these islands was stretched. However, it is possible that the consumption of wild foods, particularly marine resources, in the Neolithic would make up any shortfall in the agricultural foods. A direct way of measuring the amounts of marine protein in human diets is through chemical analysis of human bone. Stable isotope analyses undertaken on seven Accelerator Mass Spectrometer (AMS) radiocarbon dated humans from the Neolithic at the Brochtorff Circle indicated that there is no evidence for the significant use of marine foods by these Neolithic individuals. These new data indicate that agricultural foods were the dietary staple for this sample of the Maltese Neolithic population and therefore support the argument that increasing population during the Neolithic could have resulted in increasing resource stress.

En Malte néolithique, une population croissante allait de pair avec une culture matérielle de plus en plus élaborée, incluant la fameuse architecture mégalithique. Stoddart et al. (1993) affirment que les tensions sociales et l'application d'autorité augmentaient en même temps que les ressources alimentaires diminuaient. Une condition importante de cet argument est que la subsistance des habitants néolithiques de Malte dépendait entièrement de plantes et d'animaux domestiqués et que, pour cette raison, le potentiel agricole insuffisant de ces îles avait été poussé jusqu'au point de rupture. Pourtant, il semble possible que ce manque pouvait être compensé par la consommation de nourriture sauvage, surtout maritime. Il existe un moyen de mesurer les quantités de protéines maritimes dans la nourriture humaine en analysant chimiquement les os humains. Des analyses du dosage d'isotopes stables de sept squelettes humains datés par radiocarbon AMS, provenant du cercle de Brochtorff, n'indiquaient pas de consommation significative de nourriture maritime. Ces nouvelles données nous montrent que le régime principal de cet échantillon d'individus néolithiques consistait en nourriture d'origine agricole et soutiennent de cette manière que la population croissante du néolithique pouvait conduire vers une grave pénurie de ressources.

Zusammenfassung

Es gibt für das neolithische Malta Hinweise auf ein Bevölkerungswachstum, das mit einer zunehmend kunstvoll ausgearbeiteten materiellen Kultur und auch der bekannten megalithischen Architektur einherging. Stoddart et al. (1993) legten dar, daß soziale Spannungen und Kontrollen zunahmen, als sich die Nahrungsgrundlagen verringerten. Eine wichtige Bedingung dieses Argumentes ist, daß domestizierte Pflanzen und Tiere die ausschließlichen Lebensgrundlagen der neolithischen Bevölkerung Maltas bildeten und daher das dürftige landwirtschaftliche Potential dieser Inseln bei ansteigender Bevölkerungsanzahl bis zum Zusammenbruch ausgeschöpft wurde. Jedoch ist es auch möglich, daß der Konsum von Wildformen, besonders der maritimen Ressourcen, eine Verminderung landwirtschaftlicher Nahrung ausgelöst haben kann. Ein direkter Weg, die Menge maritimen Proteins in menschlicher Nahrung zu ermitteln, ist die chemische Untersuchung menschlichen Knochenmaterials. Die Untersuchung stabiler Isotopen an sieben AMS radiocarbondatierten neolithischen Individuen vom Brochtorff Circle zeigte, daß bei ihnen keine Beweise einer signifikanten Nutzung maritimer Nahrung festgestellt werden konnten. Diese neuen Informationen belegen, daß landwirtschaftlich gewonnene Lebensmittel die hauptsächliche Nahrungsgrundlage dieses Ausschnittes aus der neolithischen Population Maltas bildeten. Sie stützen damit das Argument, daß eine anwachsende Bevölkerung während des Neolithikums eine steigende Ressourcen-Knappheit ausgelöst haben könnte.

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Keywords

Neolithic diet at the Brochtorff Circle, Malta

  • M.P. Richards (a1), R.E.M. Hedges (a2), I. Walton (a2), S. Stoddart (a3) and C. Malone (a4)...

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