Integrative Approaches to Late Pleistocene Herbivore Ecology, Ranging and Diet

Integrative Approaches to Late Pleistocene Herbivore Ecology, Ranging and Diet

Leverhulme Trust

This research is generously supported by a
Leverhulme Trust Research Project Grant

The archaeo-faunal record has great potential as a resource for reconstructing the dietary and ranging behaviours of animals far beyond the time-scales of modern ecology and, through this, better understanding the behaviours and decisions of the past human groups that depended on these species.

Integrating archaeological chemistry with ecological and geospatial tools and expertise, the PleistoHERD project will develop novel methodological frameworks for exploring continuity and change in herbivore palaeoecology in Late Pleistocene Europe, illuminating the adaptability of herding herbivores to major environmental changes, and enhancing our understanding of past human subsistence, hunting strategies and landscape use. 


PleistoHERD will develop new frameworks for reconstructing the behaviour of herding herbivores, and apply them to the archaeological past. This study is original in both its aims and approach, and significant in its scope and interdisciplinarity. Bringing together archaeological, isotopic and ecological expertise, together we will establish frameworks for reconstructing animal palaeoecology using archaeological materials. Our 'hybrid' methodologies will challenge the limits of modern spatial ecology and extend the capabilities of zooarchaeological isotope research, resulting in a novel computational model. New isotope data from significant archaeological sites (analysed and interpretted within our newly-established frameworks) will not only illuminate past faunal behaviours during periods of major climatic and environmental change, but permit greater insights the human activities that created the archaeological record at our study sites, human-animal- environmental relationships and the inhabitations of past landscapes. Our use of the archaeological record as an ecological archive will benefit both ecologists and archaeologists, and - through a series of cross-disciplinary publications - our research will impact landscape-based isotope research within archaeology, ecology and beyond. 

We will develop these methods using modern animals of known behaviour and then apply them to archaeological animal remains from Palaeolithic sites in France, along with other established methods. The aim will be to provide insights into both the lives of our Palaeolithic ancestors, and also to better understand how flexible and varied animal behaviour can be over very distant time periods.

Focusing on some of the most commonly-hunted species of the European Palaeolithic, our objectives are to:

1. Expand the current capabilities of zooarchaeological chemistry (isotope) approaches through the development of integrated isotope and landscape mapping and modelling tools to help identify likely migratory routes.

2. Explore and characterise variability in herbivore dietary and ranging behaviour in the Late Pleistocene, gaining new insights into the responses of these species to broad-scale environmental and climatic shifts.
3. Gain new insights into the relationship between the migratory behaviour of Late Pleistocene prey- species, human subsistence and landscape use.


Related Publications



Daujeard, C., Vettese, D., Britton, K., Béarez, P., Boulbes, N., Crégut-Bonnoure, E., Desclaux, E., Lateur, N., Pike-Tay, A., Rivals, F., Allué, E., Chacón, MG., Courty, M-A, Galloti, R., Hardy, B., Paud, S. & Moncel, M-H 'Neanderthal selective hunting of reindeer? The case study of Abri du Maras (south-eastern France)'. Archaeological and anthropological sciences, pp. 1-27. 

Gigleux, CA., Grimes, V., Tütken, T., Knecht, R. & Britton, K. 'Reconstructing caribou seasonal biogeography in Little Ice Age (late Holocene) Western Alaska using intra-tooth strontium and oxygen isotope analysis'.  Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports

Britton, K. (2017). 'A stable relationship: isotopes and bioarchaeology are in it for the long haul'.  Antiquity, vol 91, no. 358, pp. 853–864. 

Britton, K., 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. 2, pp. 168-177. 

Britton, K., 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. 

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. 

Partner Institutions
  • University of Aberdeen
  • Université Laval
  • Memorial University of Newfoundland