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Marcello Mannino

The role of aquatic resources in ‘Italian’ hunter-gatherer subsistence and diets

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  • Marcello Mannino
  • Michael P. Richards, Department of Human Evolution, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, 04103 Leipzig, Germany
Mediterranean hunter-gatherers lived in close proximity to the sea, yet the role of marine and other aquatic resources in their subsistence is unclear. Reasons for this include the bias brought onto the faunal record for such adaptations by taphonomy (especially for fish remains), as well as the difficulty linked to reconstructing human behaviour in environments that have no modern analogue and a tradition of archaeological studies in Italy not entirely favourable to such lines of research. This paper is a review of some of the most important faunal assemblages relevant for our understanding of aquatic adaptations and of all the carbon and nitrogen stable isotope data, generated in the last decade or so through the analysis of the bone collagen of Upper Palaeolithic and Mesolithic hunter-gatherers from the Mediterranean Basin. Little evidence for the exploitation of aquatic resources is available at sites pre-dating the Last
Glacial Maximum. A clear expansion in aquatic adaptations took place around the Late Glacial, when ‘Italian’ hunter-gatherers broadened the spectrum of exploited taxa both from freshwater and marine contexts, with brackish water habitats possibly representing a greater source of food than transpires from the record at our disposal, which is also severely biased by the effects of sea level rise. The start of the Mesolithic was not marked by a further development in aquatic adaptations, which actually occurred later in this period. The isotopic database currently available for ‘Italian’ foragers suggests that marine resources constituted a smaller source of nutrition than for their counterparts living in Atlantic Europe, probably as a consequence of the lower productivity of the Mediterranean Sea. At times of climate change, however, Mediterranean hunter-gatherers were able to obtain higher proportions of dietary protein from aquatic
resources, amounting to around a fifth or more of their diets.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationPalaeolithic Italy : Advanced studies on early human adaptations in the Apennine peninsula
EditorsValentina Borgia, Emanuela Cristiani
Number of pages30
Place of publicationLeiden
Publishersidestone press academics
Publication year2018
ISBN (print)9789088905834
Publication statusPublished - 2018

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