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Ancient dental plaque sheds new light on the diet of Mesolithic foragers in the Balkans

last modified Aug 30, 2016 04:43 PM
Micro-fossils trapped in dental calculus reveal that Late Mesolithic foragers were consuming domesticated plant foods c. 6600 BC, almost 400 years earlier than previously thought.

The study of dental calculus from Late Mesolithic individuals from the site of Vlasac in the Danube Gorges of the central Balkans has provided direct evidence that Mesolithic foragers of this region consumed domestic cereals already by c. 6600 BC, i.e. almost half a millennium earlier than previously thought.

The team of researchers led by Emanuela Cristiani from The McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research, University of Cambridge used polarised microscopy to study micro-fossils trapped in the dental calculus (ancient calcified dental plaque) of 9 individuals dated to the Late Mesolithic (c. 6600–6450 BC) and the Mesolithic–Neolithic transition phase (c. 6200–5900 BC) from the site of Vlasac in the Danube Gorges. The remains were recovered from this site during excavations from 2006 to 2009 by Dušan Borić, Cardiff University.

Cristiani calculus
Calculus preserved on teeth from Vlasac and Lepenski Vir. Image courtesy of E. Cristiani.

“The deposition of mineralised plaque ends with the death of the individual, therefore, dental calculus has sealed unique human biographic information about Mesolithic dietary preferences and lifestyle” says Cristiani.

These results suggest that the hitherto held notion of the “Neolithic package” may have to be reconsidered. Archaeologists use the concept of “Neolithic package” to refer to the group of elements that appear in the Early Neolithic settlements of Southeast Europe: pottery, domesticates and cultigens, polished axes, ground stones and timber houses.

The findings are published in PNAS - Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

 

Posted: 30.08.2016

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