Early Neolithic pastoral land use at Alsónyék-Bátaszék, Hungary (Starčevo culture): New insights from stable isotope ratios

Blanz, Magdalena, Marie Balasse, Delphine Frémondeau, Erika Gál, Anett Osztás, Anna Zs Biller, Éva Á. Nyerges, Denis Fiorillo, Eszter Bánffy, and Maria Ivanova (2023). “Early Neolithic pastoral land use at Alsónyék-Bátaszék, Hungary (Starčevo culture): New insights from stable isotope ratios.” PloS one 18(12): e0295769.



The earliest introduction of livestock (cattle, goats, sheep, pigs) into the Carpathian Basin was an important step towards farming expansion into continental Europe. This spread beyond the environments of the southern Balkans was accompanied by a reduction in the spectrum of cultivated crops, changes in the relative representation of different domestic animals, and, most likely, adaptations of husbandry practices. How the earliest farmers in the Carpathian Basin kept their domestic stock is still understudied. We explored early animal management and land use strategies at the Starčevo settlement at Alsónyék-Bátaszék, Hungary (Early Neolithic, ca. 5800–5600 cal BC). Settled at the intersection of wide alluvial plains, waterlogged meadows and marshes to the east, and forested hills to the west, early farmers at Alsónyék had a wide variety of options for nourishing their livestock. We performed stable isotope ratio analysis of bone collagen (n = 99; δ13C, δ15N) and tooth enamel (nteeth = 28, sequentially sampled for δ13C and δ18O) from wild and domestic animals to locate them in the landscape and investigate herding practices on a seasonal scale. The bone collagen isotope ratios mostly indicate feeding in open environments. However, results from the sequential analysis of cattle and sheep enamel suggest diverse dietary strategies for winters, including consumption of forest resources, consumption of summer hay and grazing in an open environment. Most pigs appear to have had herbivorous diets, but several individuals likely supplemented their diet with animal protein. Stable isotope ratio results from the Lengyel phase at Alsónyék (ca. 4800–4300 cal BC) suggest more access to animal protein for pigs, and feeding in more open areas by wild boar, red deer and cattle compared to the Starčevo phase. This study’s results demonstrate considerable variability in early animal husbandry practices at Alsónyék.


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