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Sci Rep. 2017 Jun 15;7(1):3555. doi: 10.1038/s41598-017-03715-8.

Prehistoric cooking versus accurate palaeotemperature records in shell midden constituents.

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Leibniz Centre for Tropical Marine Research, 28359, Bremen, Germany.
Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, University of Miami, Miami, FL, 33149, USA.
Institut Mauritanien de Recherches Scientifiques, Nouakchott, Mauritania.
Centre de Formation et de Recherche sur les Environnements Méditerranéens, University of Perpignan Via Domitia, Perpignan, France.
Leibniz Centre for Tropical Marine Research, 28359, Bremen, Germany.
Department of Geosciences, University of Bremen, Bremen, Germany.


The reconstruction of pre-depositional cooking treatments used by prehistoric coastal populations for processing aquatic faunal resources is often difficult in archaeological shell midden assemblages. Besides limiting our knowledge of various social, cultural, economic and technological aspects of shell midden formation, unknown pre-depositional cooking techniques can also introduce large errors in palaeoclimate reconstructions as they can considerably alter the geochemical proxy signatures in calcareous skeletal structures such as bivalve shells or fish otoliths. Based on experimental and archaeological data, we show that carbonate clumped-isotope thermometry can be used to detect and reconstruct prehistoric processing methods in skeletal aragonite from archaeological shell midden assemblages. Given the temperature-dependent re-equilibration of clumped isotopes in aragonitic carbonates, this allows specific processing, cooking or trash dispersal strategies such as boiling, roasting, or burning to be differentiated. Besides permitting the detailed reconstruction of cultural or technological aspects of shell midden formation, this also allows erroneous palaeoclimate reconstructions to be avoided as all aragonitic shells subjected to pre-historic cooking methods show a clear alteration of their initial oxygen isotopic composition.

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