Palaeobiogeography and Palaeoecology of late Pleistocene Herbivores of Northern Europe

Palaeobiogeography and Palaeoecology of late Pleistocene Herbivores of Northern Europe

Building on my PhD thesis, and previous work on the isotope ecology of modern and ancient herbivore species, this project will use isotope methods to gain new information about herbivore palaeoecology and biogeography in late Pleistocene Europe, also adding temporal depth to modern ecological studies. The  stable isotope analysis of bone collagen (δ15N,δ13C) is not only useful in archaeological studies to infer human palaeodiet, but – given stable isotope variability across different plant communities – can also provide information about the niche feeding behaviours of different herbivore taxa. These feeding behaviours are not stable, but are thought to be a product of both the diversity of local plant life and the density and biodiversity of other herbivore guilds, both of which are likely contingent on contemporary climatic conditions (Britton et al. in review). Furthermore, some herbivore species are capable of exploiting plant taxa others cannot (e.g. lichen consumption in reindeer). When combined with the sequential sampling of tooth enamel, isotopic methods (87Sr/86Sr), can also be used to reconstruct herbivore migratory behaviours, as demonstrated in modern North American caribou (Britton et al. 2009) and late Pleistocene European reindeer (Britton et al. 2011).

Focusing on three key taxa (Equus, Bison/Bos, Rangifer), this diachronic study will incorporate a number of archaeological herbivore assemblages that span multiple periods, and aims to:

  • assess changes in niche feeding behaviour and landscape use through time
  • examine the potential relationship herbivore ecology/biogeography, and climate change, over a time-scale which cannot be achieved in modern contexts
  • explore the susceptibility or resistance mid-large herding herbivores have to the type of broad-scale climatic shifts that occurred in Europe during the late Pleistocene
  • investigate the implications of temporal change in herbivore palaeoecology/biogeography for contemporary faunal communities, the palaeoenvironment and Palaeolithic human hunter-gather groups
Related Publications
  • Britton, KH., Gaudzinski-Windheuser, S., Roebroeks, W., Kindler, L. & Richards, MP. (2012). 'Stable isotope analysis of well-preserved 120,000-year-old herbivore bone collagen from the Middle Palaeolithic site of Neumark-Nord 2, Germany reveals niche separation between bovids and equids'. Palaeogeography Palaeoclimatology Palaeoecology, vol 333-334, no. -, pp. 168-177., [Online] DOI: 10.1016/j.palaeo.2012.03.028
  • Britton, KH., Grimes, V., Niven, L., Steele, T., McPherron, S., Soressi, M., Kelly, T., Jaubert, J., Hublin, J-J & Richards, M. (2011). 'Strontium isotope evidence for migration in late Pleistocene Rangifer: Implications for Neanderthal hunting strategies at the Middle Palaeolithic site of Jonzac, France'. Journal of Human Evolution, vol 61, no. 2, pp. 176-185., [Online] DOI: 10.1016/j.jhevol.2011.03.004
  • Britton, K., Grimes, V., Dau, J. & Richards, MP. (2009). 'Reconstructing faunal migrations using intra-tooth sampling and strontium and oxygen isotope analyses: a case study of modern caribou (Rangifer tarandus granti)'. Journal of Archaeological Science, vol 36, no. 5, pp. 1163-1172., [Online] DOI: 10.1016/j.jas.2009.01.003