Aurochs to Cattle: Investigating the Mesolithic-Neolithic Transition in the Basque Country using Sequential Strontium, Oxygen, and Carbon Isotopes.

Hector Kelly, Jacob I. Griffith, Richard Madgwick, Roger Alcantara Fors, Javier Ordoño, Alfonso Alday, Christophe Snoeck

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingMeeting abstract (Book)Research


The human-induced aseasonal reproduction cycle of cattle, which in natural conditions would usually produce calves only in the spring months, was a crucial achievement for the success of production economy, since it ultimately enabled humans to produce meat and dairy products year-round. It is theorised that the implementation of this practice played a key role in the increasingly restricted territoriality of the Mesolithic-Neolithic transition communities (ca. 5700-5300 BC) in the Basque Country. This is some centuries before sedentism became widespread with the consolidation of agriculture. As such, observing
changes within the natural rhythm and/or certain patterns in the mobility of both supposedly domesticated and wild bovids of this transitional period (i.e., cattle and aurochs, respectively), could suggest human influence, and potentially the introduction of husbandry practices.
This study presents a high-resolution incremental enamel isotope analysis of 10 deciduous bovid premolars to explore the introduction of such practices in the Mesolithic-Neolithic transition of the Basque Country. The teeth, recovered at the famous transitional site of Mendandia (7500–5350 cal. BC), were analysed individually to reveal time-resolute fluctuations in carbon (δ13C), oxygen (δ18O) and strontium (87Sr/86Sr) isotope ratios. Our results revealed an extension of the expected natural birthing seasons, providing evidence of early husbandry controls onto the bovids within the Mesolithic-Neolithic transitional period. Further, strontium profiles indicate a substantial level of animal mobility, potentially linked with short movements (e.g., transterminance) between the seasonally occupied settlements (mostly rock shelters) evidencing the restricted territorial networks characteristic of the period in the Basque Country. This demonstrates that complex and choreographed patterns of animal management were employed relatively early during the Mesolithic-Neolithic transition in this region, and shows the validity of the methodological approach used here to enhance the understanding of this particularly important process in the history of humankind.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publication10th Postgraduate Zooarchaeology Forum (PZAF) in Zagreb, Croatia 2023
PublisherPostgraduate Zooarchaeology Forum (PZAF)
Number of pages27
Publication statusPublished - 24 May 2023


  • Mesolithic
  • Neolithic
  • zoarchaeology


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