The diet of the first farmers in Lithuania, 3200‐2400 cal BC: Biochemical investigation of food residues from ancient pottery


Whilst traditional archaeological methodologies, for example zooarchaeology and palaeobotany, as well as bioarchaeological techniques, for instance Accelerator Mass Spectrometry (AMS) radiocarbon dating and bone collagen stable isotope analysis, have recently demonstrated when domesticated plants and animals were exploited and to what extent they were consumed in the Southeastern Baltic (e.g. Antanaitis-Jacobs et al. 2009; Piličiauskas 2016; Piličiauskas and Heron 2015; Piličiauskas et al. 2011; Piličiauskas et al. 2012; Piličiauskas et al. 2017a; Piličiauskas et al. 2017b; Piličiauskas et al. 2017c), the often poor documentation and recovery of smaller anthropogenic materials as well as the low number of Early Neolithic inhumations have hindered interpretations concerning diet across the Subneolithic-Neolithic transition.

Recently, a small pilot study was undertaken on Subneolithic and Neolithic ceramics from Lithuania (Heron et al. 2015), which demonstrated the utility of organic residue analyses to study diet and vessel use. However, since the data set consisted of ceramics from four coastal sites, the present study was initiated with a broader sampling strategy in mind.

Corded Ware vessel from the inland site of Daktariškė 5 (Gytis Piličiauskas).

Background and aims
In the Southeastern Baltic, the earliest evidence of domesticated animals dates to the Neolithic Corded Ware culture, ca. 2700-2400 cal BC, which is represented by the presence of ruminant milk in at least two beakers from the coastal site of Nida (Heron et al. 2015). On the contrary, the earliest evidence for crop cultivation has been directly dated to the Bronze Age, which is based on a single 14C result (1392–1123 cal BC) on a charred Hordeum vulgare grain from the site of Kvietiniai (Grikpedis and Matuzeviciute 2017). Thus, in order to identify earlier evidence for crop cultivation and animal husbandry (for instance in the form of ruminant milk), samples deriving from archaeological sites in Lithuania were selected for molecular and isotopic characterisation through organic residue analyses. While the majority of the samples were derived from contexts dating to the Neolithic Corded Ware (ca. 2800-2300 cal BC) and Globular Amphora (ca. 3200-2500 cal BC) cultures, additional hybrid Subneolithic-Neolithic ware (ca. 2300-2000 cal BC) and Bronze Age ware (ca. 2000-1500 cal BC) ceramics were included to assess diachronic change. To assess temporal variability, the vessels were derived from both coastal and inland localities. Moreover, a range of vessel types were sampled to assess whether variability is related to function.


The project is a collaboration between the Lithuanian Historical Institute and the University of York, and will be undertaken by Gytis Piličiauskas, Harry Robson, Alex Lucquin and Oliver Craig.