Cooking pots show how Neolithic farmers adapted to climate change

Neolithic farmers in southern Anatolia were adapting to climate change around 8,200 years ago, according to a new study that derived evidence from animal fats surviving in cooking pots.

Farmers were adapting to climate change 8,200 years ago, following a sudden decrease in global temperatures caused by the release of glacial meltwater from a Canadian lake.

The research led by the University of Bristol centred on the Neolithic and Chalcolithic city settlement of Çatalhöyük in southern Anatolia, Turkey, which existed from approximately 7500 BC to 5700 BC.

Examining the animal bones excavated at the site, the scientists concluded that the herders of the city turned towards sheep and goats at this time, as these animals were more drought-resistant than cattle.

While a study of cut marks on the animal bones showed that the population worked on exploiting any available meat due to food scarcity, the animal fats surviving in ancient cooking pots carried evidence for the climate event in their isotopic composition.

The isotopic information in the hydrogen atoms from the animal fats reflected that of ancient precipitation, explained a statement. A change in the hydrogen signal was detected in the period corresponding to the climate event, thus suggesting changes in precipitation patterns at the site at that time.

Lead author Mélanie Roffet-Salque commented: “Changes in precipitation patterns in the past are traditionally obtained using ocean or lake sediment cores. This is the first time that such information is derived from cooking pots.

“This opens up a completely new avenue of investigation — the reconstruction of past climate at the very location where people lived using pottery.”

Co-author Richard Evershed added: “The models point to seasonal changes farmers would have had to adapt to – overall colder temperatures and drier summers – which would have had inevitable impacts on agriculture.”

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