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Ancient DNA, lipid biomarkers and palaeoecological evidence reveals construction and life on early medieval lake settlements

Brown, A. G. and Van Hardenbroek, M. and Fonville, T. and Davies, K. and Mackay, H. and Murray, E. and Head, K. and Barratt, P. and McCormick, F. and Ficetola, G. F. and Gielly, L. and Henderson, A. C. G. and Crone, A. and Cavers, G. and Langdon, P. G. and Whitehouse, N. J. and Pirrie, D. and Alsos, I. G. (2021) 'Ancient DNA, lipid biomarkers and palaeoecological evidence reveals construction and life on early medieval lake settlements.', Scientific Reports, 11 (1). p. 11807.


Direct evidence of ancient human occupation is typically established through archaeological excavation. Excavations are costly and destructive, and practically impossible in some lake and wetland environments. We present here an alternative approach, providing direct evidence from lake sediments using DNA metabarcoding, steroid lipid biomarkers (bile acids) and from traditional environmental analyses. Applied to an early Medieval Celtic settlement in Ireland (a crannog) this approach provides a site chronology and direct evidence of human occupation, crops, animal farming and on-site slaughtering. This is the first independently-dated, continuous molecular archive of human activity from an archaeological site, demonstrating a link between animal husbandry, food resources, island use. These sites are under threat but are impossible to preserve in-situ so this approach can be used, with or without excavation, to produce a robust and full site chronology and provide direct evidence of occupation, the use of plants and animals, and activities such as butchery.

Item Type:Article
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Publisher statement:Open Access. This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC-BY 4.0), which permits any use, distribution and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author(s) and source are credited.
Date accepted:04 May 2021
Date deposited:06 October 2021
Date of first online publication:03 June 2021
Date first made open access:06 October 2021

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