Toggle Main Menu Toggle Search

Open Access padlockePrints

Ancient lipids reveal continuity in culinary practices across the transition to agriculture in Northern Europe

Lookup NU author(s): Dr Arnout Fischer, Paul Donohoe, Dr Martin Jones


Full text for this publication is not currently held within this repository. Alternative links are provided below where available.


Farming transformed societies globally. Yet, despite more than a century of research, there is little consensus on the speed or completeness of this fundamental change and, consequently, on its principal drivers. For Northern Europe, the debate has often centered on the rich archaeological record of the Western Baltic, but even here it is unclear how quickly or completely people abandoned wild terrestrial and marine resources after the introduction of domesticated plants and animals at similar to 4000 calibrated years B.C. Ceramic containers are found ubiquitously on these sites and contain remarkably well-preserved lipids derived from the original use of the vessel. Reconstructing culinary practices from this ceramic record can contribute to longstanding debates concerning the origins of farming. Here we present data on the molecular and isotopic characteristics of lipids extracted from 133 ceramic vessels and 100 carbonized surface residues dating to immediately before and after the first evidence of domesticated animals and plants in the Western Baltic. The presence of specific lipid biomarkers, notably omega-(o-alkylphenyl) alkanoic acids, and the isotopic composition of individual n-alkanoic acids clearly show that a significant proportion (similar to 20%) of ceramic vessels with lipids preserved continued to be used for processing marine and freshwater resources across the transition to agriculture in this region. Although changes in pottery use are immediately evident, our data challenge the popular notions that economies were completely transformed with the arrival of farming and that Neolithic pottery was exclusively associated with produce from domesticated animals and plants.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Craig OE, Steele VJ, Fischer A, Hartz S, Andersen SH, Donohoe P, Glykou A, Saul H, Jones DM, Koch E, Heron CP

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

Year: 2011

Volume: 108

Issue: 44

Pages: 17910-17915

Print publication date: 01/11/2011

ISSN (print): 0027-8424

ISSN (electronic): 1091-6490

Publisher: National Academy of Sciences


DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1107202108


Altmetrics provided by Altmetric


Funder referenceFunder name
AH/E008232/1UK Arts and Humanities Research Council