Inland Ertebølle Culture: the importance of aquatic resources and the freshwater reservoir effect in radiocarbon dates from pottery food crusts

Bente Philippsen1 and John Meadows2

1. AMS 14C Dating Centre, Department of Physics and Astronomy, Aarhus University. Ny Munkegade 120, 8000 Aarhus C, Denmark & Museum Lolland-Falster, Gl. Badevej 2E, 4970 Rødbyhavn, Denmark. Email: bphilipp@phys.au.dk
2. Zentrum für Baltische und Skandinavische Archäologie, Stiftung Schleswig-Holsteinische Landesmuseen, Schloss Gottorf, 24837 Schleswig, Germany & Christian-Albrechts-Universität zu Kiel, Leibniz-Labor für Altersbestimmung und Isotopenforschung, Max-Eyth-Str. 11-13, 24118 Kiel, Germany. Email: jmeadows@leibniz.uni-kiel.de

Cite this as: Philippsen, B. and Meadows, J. (2014), Inland Ertebølle Culture: the importance of aquatic resources and the freshwater reservoir effect in radiocarbon dates from pottery food crusts. 'Human Exploitation of Aquatic Landscapes' special issue (ed. Ricardo Fernandes and John Meadows), Internet Archaeology 37. https://doi.org/10.11141/ia.37.9

Summary

Composite image - food crusts on pottery

The Ertebølle culture is a late Mesolithic hunter-gatherer-fisher culture in southern Scandinavia, northern Germany and Poland. Archaeological finds as well as scientific analyses of humans and their artefacts indicate the great importance of aquatic resources, both marine and freshwater, to Ertebølle subsistence.

In northern Germany, modern freshwater fish samples can have very high apparent radiocarbon ages (up to 3000 years). If such dramatic 'freshwater reservoir effects' also existed during the late Mesolithic, they could lead to artificially old radiocarbon dates for the bones of Ertebølle humans and domestic dogs, and for carbonised food crusts on cooking pots. Conversely, if we can demonstrate radiocarbon age 'offsets' in such samples, we can often attribute them to the exploitation of freshwater food resources.

This article discusses methods of identifying freshwater resources in prehistoric pottery, including radiocarbon reservoir effects. We consider the results of radiocarbon, stable isotope and elemental analyses of food crusts on prehistoric pottery from four sites in the Alster and Trave valleys: Kayhude, Schlamersdorf, Bebensee and Seedorf.

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