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From texts to teeth: A multi-isotope study of sheep and goat herding practices in the Late Bronze Age (‘Mycenaean’) polity of Knossos, Crete

Isaakidou, Valasia, Styring, Amy, Halstead, Paul, Nitsch, Erika, Stroud, Elizabeth, le Roux, Petrus, Lee-Thorp, Julia, Bogaard, Amy
Journal of archaeological science: Reports 2019 v.23 pp. 36-56
altitude, archaeology, bioavailability, carbon, diet, ecosystems, flocks, forage, goats, herding, life history, oxygen, sheep, stable isotopes, strontium, summer, tooth enamel, winter, wool production, Crete
Linear B administrative documents of the late second millennium BC from urban Knossos, Crete, reveal that spatially extensive and centrally monitored sheep flocks and wool production played a fundamental role in Mycenaean palatial economy. Here we employ multi-isotope (δ13C, δ18O, 87Sr/86Sr) analysis of sequentially sampled sheep and goat tooth enamel bioapatite to explore life histories of animals consumed at Knossos. Interpretation of isotopic results incorporates new baseline data on 87Sr/86Sr ratios of bioavailable Sr from modern Cretan plants collected in relevant zones. Results reveal a variety of herding regimes, including seasonal (‘wet/winter’ to ‘dry/summer’) vertical movement of sheep from lowland to highland locations, more restricted mobility for goats in lowland to mid-altitude territories, possible input of fodder to goat diet, and exploitation of a range of plant ecosystems. Results broadly match documentary evidence and ethnographic/ecological expectations for sheep and goat herding at varying scales and underline the role of Knossos in mobilising resources from a range of herding systems and territories.