The biochemical analysis of human remains has become a central aspect in the knowledge of the populations of the past. The study of the mobility of populations, their genetic affinities or their diet have found in the Ancient DNA and in stable isotope analyzes one of its main sources of information.
The paleodiet studies they are possibly the ones that are generating the greatest advances in knowledge. The paleodiet is fundamentally analyzed from the so-called stable isotopes of carbon and nitrogen.
These are indicators present in the collagen of human bones that allow know the type of diet consumed for several years prior to the individual's death.
Researchers from the University of Granada (UGR) have determined, through the analysis of the diet of past populations in the anthropological collections of the megalithic necropolises of Panoría (Darro, Granada) and El Barranquete (Níjar, Almería), that although the megalithic communities varied their eating habits over time, there were no relevant social differences in the type of food or in the proportion of protein consumed.
Thus, the homogeneous diet, together with ritual and funeral practices where the community was emphasized over individuality, “show that the megalithic populations were characterized by maintain social relations based essentially on values such as equality, reciprocity and solidarity”Says the main author of this work, Gonzalo Aranda Jiménez, researcher from the Department of Prehistory and Archeology at the University of Granada.
The megalithic necropolises of Panoría and El Barranquete They are cemeteries made up of tombs built with large stone slabs or masonry walls, which delimit burial chambers that are accessed through a corridor or corridor.
The excavations carried out by the UGR researchers have shown that they are collective burial sites, where individuals of both sexes and of all ages were buried.
One of the main characteristics of these funeral sites is their long period of use. In the case of Panoria The first burials were made between 3525-3195 BC, approximately 5500 years, and the last ones occurred between 2125-1980 BC, about 4000 years ago.
For its part, in the necropolis of El Barranquete the oldest burials were made between 3030-2915 BC, about 4000 years ago, and the most recent ones were between 1075-815 BC, about 2000 years from the present. In both cases, ritual and funerary use lasted for more than 1000 years.
Carbon, nitrogen and sulfur analysis
Between the two necropolises, the researchers have analyzed 52 samples belonging to as many individuals: 19 from Panoría and 33 from El Barranquete.
In addition to the measurements of carbon and nitrogen isotopes, they also recorded the sulfide values for the samples from El Barraquete, with the objective of more precisely establish the use of foods of marine origin, given the proximity of this necropolis to the Mediterranean Sea from which it is a few kilometers away.
"Our results show a diet based on the consumption of proteins of terrestrial origin -plants, animal proteins and dairy products- where foods of aquatic origin were absent ”, highlights Aranda Jiménez.
Nitrogen values remain constant throughout the period, documenting the main difference in the increase in carbon in the most recent moments. This fact is consistent with the intensification process that occurred in agricultural practices based on the cultivation of cereals, especially barley.
These differences in isotopic values show the cultural changes that occurred over the long period of funerary use, "But nevertheless they also show a homogeneous diet among the individuals that were buried at different chronological and cultural moments".
In light of the results of this work, its authors conclude that during a good part of our history, social identities were built from our identification with the community and with relationships unrelated to any type of permanent and structural social division.
"The study of megalithic populations shows that the coercive and exploitative relationships that govern today's societies are the exception, but they have not been the norm," says Aranda Jiménez.
"An analysis of Paleo diet indicates that in prehistory, for thousands of years, there were no social differences in food consumption." University of Granada.