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date: 28 January 2021

Abstract and Keywords

Scholars have speculated about the role of the subsistence economy in defining the ‘Neolithic’. In western and eastern Europe, the Neolithic is defined in different terms. In the former, the Neolithic is typically viewed as the shift to an economy dominated by domesticated plants and animals. In the latter, it involves the appearance of pottery. Stable carbon and nitrogen isotope analysis has been used to characterize Neolithic diets and, more recently, to challenge notions of a single Neolithic way of life throughout the continent. This essay explores patterns and variations in stable isotopes and Neolithic subsistence across Europe, focusing on selected areas to highlight similarities and differences. It first looks at the dietary insights offered by carbon and nitrogen isotopes before turning to subsistence practices in regions from the Mediterranean to northern Scandinavia. It then considers the contribution of wild plants and animals, along with variations in food options in communities living near inland lakes and rivers. The article concludes by analysing the significant shift from marine to terrestrial isotopic signatures that seems to coincide with the Mesolithic–Neolithic transition.

Keywords: Subsistence economy, Neolithic, Europe, plants, animals, diets, stable isotopes, Mediterranean, inland lakes, rivers

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