Brief Communications

Nature 425, 366 (25 September 2003) | doi:10.1038/425366a

Archaeology: Sharp shift in diet at onset of Neolithic

Michael P. Richards1, Rick J. Schulting2 & Robert E. M. Hedges3

The introduction of domesticated plants and animals into Britain during the Neolithic cultural period between 5,200 and 4,500 years ago is viewed either as a rapid event1 or as a gradual process that lasted for more than a millennium2. Here we measure stable carbon isotopes present in bone to investigate the dietary habits of Britons over the Neolithic period and the preceding 3,800 years (the Mesolithic period). We find that there was a rapid and complete change from a marine- to a terrestrial-based diet among both coastal and inland dwellers at the onset of the Neolithic period, which coincided with the first appearance of domesticates. As well as arguing against a slow, gradual adoption of agriculture and animal husbandry by Mesolithic societies, our results indicate that the attraction of the new farming lifestyle must have been strong enough to persuade even coastal dwellers to abandon their successful fishing practices.

  1. Department of Archaeological Sciences, University of Bradford, Bradford BD7 1DP, UK
  2. School of Archaeology and Palaeoecology, Queen's University Belfast, Belfast BT7 1NN, UK
  3. Research Laboratory for Archaeology and the History of Art, University of Oxford, Oxford OX1 3QJ, UK

Correspondence to: Michael P. Richards1 Email: