Further isotopic evidence for seaweed-eating sheep from Neolithic Orkney

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    The antiquity of the practice of grazing on and/or foddering with seaweed is of interest in terms of understanding animal management practices in northwest Europe, where provision had to be made for overwintering. Orkney holds a special place in this discussion, since the sheep of North Ronaldsay have been confined to the seashores since the early nineteenth century, and are entirely adapted to a diet consisting mainly of seaweeds. Here, we report the results of stable carbon and nitrogen isotope analysis of twenty-five faunal specimens from the Neolithic chambered tomb of Quanterness, Orkney. Three of the 12 sheep analysed show elevated δ13C values that can only be explained by the consumption of seaweed. Radiocarbon dates place two of the three animals in the Neolithic, coeval with the use of the monument for burial, while the third animal dates to the Chalcolithic/Early Bronze Age. The findings are placed into the wider context of previous isotopic analyses of domestic fauna from prehistoric Orkney. A possible disjoint is noted between the results for bone collagen – where seaweed consumption seems to relate to the pre-natal period, since all the animals with high δ13C values are less than ca. three months of age – and previous studies using high-resolution sequential enamel measurements, which suggest a repeated pattern of winter consumption of seaweed in older animals.


    • Schulting et al. seaweed-eating sheep Orkney

      Rights statement: © Elsevier Ltd. 2017 This manuscript version is made available under the CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0 license http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/,which permits distribution and reproduction for non-commercial purposes, provided the author and source are cited.

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    Original languageEnglish
    Number of pages8
    Pages (from-to)463-470
    JournalJournal of Archaeological Science Reports
    Journal publication date01 Feb 2017
    Early online date29 Dec 2016
    Publication statusPublished - 01 Feb 2017

      Research areas

    • Marine reservoir effect, Palaeodietary modelling, Quanterness chambered tomb, Stable carbon isotopes

    ID: 124233109