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Ancient DNA, lipid biomarkers and palaeoecological evidence reveals construction and life on early medieval lake settlements

Lookup NU author(s): Dr Maarten van Hardenbroek van AmmerstolORCiD, Dr Helen Mackay, Professor Andrew HendersonORCiD



This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (CC BY 4.0).


Direct evidence of ancient human occupation is typically established through archaeological excavation. Excavations are costly and destructive, and practically impossible in some lake and wetland environments. We present here an alternative approach, providing direct evidence from lake sediments using DNA metabarcoding, steroid lipid biomarkers (bile acids) and from traditional environmental analyses. Applied to an early Medieval Celtic settlement in Ireland (a crannog) this approach provides a site chronology and direct evidence of human occupation, crops, animal farming and on-site slaughtering. This is the first independently-dated, continuous molecular archive of human activity from an archeological site, demonstrating a link between animal husbandry, food resources, island use. These sites are under threat but are impossible to preserve in-situ so this approach can be used, with or without excavation, to produce a robust and full site chronology and provide direct evidence of occupation, the use of plants and animals, and activities such as butchery.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Brown AG, Van Hardenbroek M, Fonville T, Davies K, Mackay H, Murray E, Head K, Barratt P, McCormick F, Ficetola GF, Gielly L, Henderson ACG, Crone A, Cavers G, Langdon PG, Whitehouse NJ, Pirrie D, Alsos IG

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Scientific Reports

Year: 2021

Volume: 11

Online publication date: 03/06/2021

Acceptance date: 04/05/2021

Date deposited: 11/06/2021

ISSN (electronic): 2045-2322

Publisher: Nature Portfolio


DOI: 10.1038/s41598-021-91057-x


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Funder referenceFunder name
AH/M005259/1Arts & Humanities Research Council-AHRC (formerly AHRB)