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How the towns of theArgaric society (Bronze Age), between 4,220 and 3,550 years ago, is a question that the analyzes of the bones found in the site of La Bastida de Tostana in Murcia.
But the reconstruction of the diet of these villages from the southeast of the Iberian Peninsula in the Bronze Age allows us to better discern their subsistence strategies.
A team from the Social and Mediterranean Archaeoecology Group (ASOME) of theAutonomous University of Barcelona (UAB) has analyzed for the first time all levels of thefood chain of this prehistoric western Mediterranean society, from plants to herbivorous, carnivorous and omnivorous animals.
The results, published in the journalPLoS ONE, allow to reconstruct the food chain from the combined analysis of stable nitrogen and carbon isotopes, which detects different types of plant and terrestrial and aquatic animal foods.
To reach these conclusions, the researchers, among whom are also other German, Austrian and Spanish groups, have studied the human remains of 75 individuals (52 from La Bastida and 23 from Gatas), bones of 29 animals and 105 charred seeds (76 grains of barley and 29 of wheat) recovered in the excavationsLa Bastida, one of the first cities in Europe, and another smaller settlement, that ofCatsin Turre, Almería.
Similar feeding, different herd management
The study indicates that both populations shared a very similar diet, based mainly on the consumption ofbarley and, to a lesser degree,wheat, with a certain contributionmeat and dairy, but they applied differentiated subsistence strategies.
The inhabitants of La Bastida cultivated the fertile lands of the Guadalentín, away from the mountains and the uncultivable environment that surrounded this city. The animals grazed on these crops and fed on cereal stubble, probably in mounted enclosures after harvest.
Is complementary herd management made manure will provide a valuable fertilizer to the land, which increased the fertility and profitability of crops. In Gatas, on the other hand, the population made a moreextensive, with a good part of the feeding of the animals based on the natural resources of the environment.
“La Bastida practiced a more intensive and joint management of crops and herds, which allowed it to enjoy an agrarian economy with the capacity to feed a fairly large population - a thousand people at that time -", ExplainCristina Rihuete, researcher at the Department of Prehistory at the UAB.
“This system led him, despite cultivating on land increasingly degraded by intensive regular use, aproductive economy better than other smaller towns around it. Here lies one of the differential economic successes of the management of La Bastida, until now unsuspected, which undoubtedly favored its political and territorial dominance”.
The data suggest that the decline of La Bastida would have started around 1750 BC.
“Poorer protein diets and more intensive agricultural management are indications of the subsistence crisis that, according to our hypothesis, caused the abrupt end of Argaric society, although we need further research to confirm this.”, SaysRoberto Risch, also a researcher on Prehistory at the UAB.
Weaning before two years
The work has allowed first establish the age at which children were weaned in the Bronze Age In the Iberic Peninsule. The remains analyzed indicate that between 18 months and two years they had already completed the process of replacement of thebreastmilk by a diet based mainly on porridgecereals.
Men and women they fed the same in La Bastida, but the fact that in the three individuals from the two richest graves (two women and one man) a higher proportion of meat and dairy has been found points to aclass social differentiation.
The prehistoric diet, in review
The results and the comparison with isotopic studies of other sites in which only human remains have been studied question the reconstruction that has been made of the prehistoric diet and advise reviewing it, according to the researchers.
“If we had analyzed only human bones, we would have interpreted a different diet between the inhabitants of La Bastida and those of Gatas”, SpecifiesCorina knipper, researcher at the Curt-Engelhorn-Center Archaeometry of Mannheim and first author of the article.
Of the nitrogen variation it would have been deduced that the former had a diet based mostly on meat and dairy.
But this was not the case due to the number of mills to make flour and grain storage devices recovered in La Bastida, they point out in the study.
“Analyzing the isotopic composition of cereals has allowed us to specify why this difference is due. The high nitrogen-15 values in La Bastida individuals are due to the greater presence of this natural isotope in herd manure and its transfer to the cereals that formed the basis of the diet.”, Points out Jordi Voltas, researcher at the Mixed Unit CTFC - AGROTECNIO and at the University of Lleida.
Corina Knipper, Cristina Rihuete-Herrada, Jordi Voltas, Petra Held, Vicente Lull, Rafael Micó, Roberto Risch, Kurt W. Alt. “Reconstructing Bronze Age diets and farming strategies at the Early Bronze Age sites of La Bastida and Gatas (southeast Iberia ) using stable isotope analysis ”.PLoS ONE March 11, 2020.