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Journal Article

Multi-isotope reconstruction of Late Pleistocene large-herbivore biogeography and mobility patterns in Central Europe


Britton,  Kate       
Department of Human Evolution, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Max Planck Society;

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Heddell Stevens, P., Jöris, O., Britton, K., Matthies, T., Lucas, M., Scott, E., et al. (2024). Multi-isotope reconstruction of Late Pleistocene large-herbivore biogeography and mobility patterns in Central Europe. Communications Biology, 7(1): 568. doi:10.1038/s42003-024-06233-2.

Cite as: https://hdl.handle.net/21.11116/0000-000F-4F32-1
Interpretations of Late Pleistocene hominin adaptative capacities by archaeologists have focused heavily on their exploitation of certain prey and documented contemporary behaviours for these species. However, we cannot assume that animal prey-taxa ecology and ethology were the same in the past as in the present, or were constant over archaeological timescales. Sequential isotope analysis of herbivore teeth has emerged as a particularly powerful method of directly reconstructing diet, ecology and mobility patterns on sub-annual scales. Here, we apply 87Sr/86Sr isotope analysis, in combination with δ18O and δ13C isotope analysis, to sequentially sampled tooth enamel of prevalent herbivore species that populated Europe during the Last Glacial Period, including Rangifer tarandus, Equus sp. and Mammuthus primigenius. Our samples come from two open-air archaeological sites in Central Germany, Königsaue and Breitenbach, associated with Middle Palaeolithic and early Upper Palaeolithic cultures, respectively. We identify potential inter- and intra-species differences in range size and movement through time, contextualised through insights into diet and the wider environment. However, homogeneous bioavailable 87Sr/86Sr across large parts of the study region prevented the identification of specific migration routes. Finally, we discuss the possible influence of large-herbivore behaviour on hominin hunting decisions at the two sites.