It is believed that our ancestors, who lived in the late Stone Age, hunted mainly mammoths, the meat of which made up most of the diet. The study of the remains of the ancient inhabitants of the eastern part of modern Vladimir showed that this is not entirely true.
Scientists from Russia and Belgium studied the composition of free isotopes in collagen of human bones found at the site of the Upper Paleolithic (that is, dating back to the Late Stone Age) Sungir site. Their conclusions were published in a new work, which can be found in the journal "Notes of the Institute for the History of Material Culture of the Russian Academy of Sciences".
In general, Sungir is one of the most studied sites of the Late Paleolithic, where scientists have made tens of thousands of archaeological finds. The first one is accidental: in 1955, an excavator dug up a mammoth bone. Later, a great many mammoth bones were found, but this did not surprise anyone: according to all available ideas, at that time there was a tundra on the Russian Plain and mammoths lived.
The next year, 1956, an archaeological expedition led by Otto Bader arrived at the site of the discovery. During the excavations, they discovered the site of an ancient man, which immediately became a unique monument of world importance. There lived people who hunted mammoths. But is it only on them?
Usually, the dietary structure of people of the late Paleolithic era is studied not only by analyzing the fossil remains of animals that were hunted by ancient people, but also by studying the composition of stable isotopes in bone collagen. Collagen is the main protein of human connective tissues (bones, ligaments, tendons). It is well preserved in ancient skeletons, therefore it is considered a valuable object of research.
In the new work, scientists have established and analyzed the concentration of free nitrogen isotopes in bone collagen. The concentration of nitrogen-15 in mammals is always higher than in atmospheric air. But this concentration is different in animals: it is higher in those who are closer to the top of the food chain.
The excess of nitrogen-15 concentration over atmospheric for the inhabitants of Sungir was approximately 1, 18%. This confirms the findings of previous studies that protein was the basis of the diet of ancient people. But there were some surprises.
Having studied the isotopic composition of collagen in some animals of the same area and the same period, scientists found that the excess of nitrogen-15 concentration in collagen for wolf bones is 0.98% - this is very close to that of Sungir people. Moreover, the bones of the reindeer of the same isotope were found to be only 0.57% more than in the atmospheric air. Meanwhile, it is known that with an ascent to each new level of the food chain, the concentration of nitrogen-15 increases by about 0.3-0.5%. From this, scientists concluded that the people of Sungir fed mainly on reindeer, and not on mammoths, as was previously thought. The wolf had about the same diet.
Perhaps such food preferences are also due to the fact that the Sungir site is located at the mouth of a small tributary of the Klyazma River. It was in such places that fords existed, which the reindeer used during their seasonal migrations.
In connection with the proximity of the river, it is also curious that the excess of nitrogen-15 concentration in the collagen of the Sungir-5 skull was slightly higher than in the rest: 1.29%. Scientists have suggested that the person who owned this skull ate a lot of freshwater fish.