The evolution of dietary diversity and the transition to agriculture in Europe

The Neolithic way of life emerged in the Near East, and diffused into Europe around 7000 BC, reaching its northwest limits soon after 4000 BC. It is one of the most important transitions in European prehistory which saw radical changes, such as the rapid dispersal of new foods from southwest Asia (e.g. cattle, sheep, pigs and cereals), the widespread uptake of pottery (for food storage and cooking), a settled way of life, and changing practices in the treatment of the dead. These new processes affected all facets of daily life. Instead of gathering a wide range of wild foods like the earlier hunter-gatherers, it is suggested that Neolithic societies became reliant on a small number of pancontinental crops and animal staples, thus decreasing their dietary diversity. 

In this project, we will investigate how broad the human dietary breadth in Europe was during the Neolithic transition, and how regional variation in the Neolithic diet was driven, whether by the local environment/ecological settings, and/or climate and/or cultural change. To do this, we will employ Microscopy, Palaeoproteomics and Sequential Thermal Desorption/Pyrolysis-Gas Chromatography-Mass Spectrometry applied to human dental calculus from sites in Ireland, Iberia and the Balkans.  The results of this project will have implications for understanding the inexorable spread of agriculture during the Neolithic and the sustainability of Neolithic life within anthropogenically transformed landscapes.

Funded by

Science Foundation Ireland – Irish Research Council Pathway Programme.

Principal Investigator
  • Prof. Robert Power, University College Dublin
Co-Investigators & collaborators

Prof. Beatrice Demarchi (University of Turin), Dr Cynthianne Spiteri (University of Turin), Prof. Meriel McClatchie (University College Dublin).

PhD Student
  • Ms. Meaghan Mackie, University College Dublin