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Two burials in a unique freshwater shell midden: insights into transformations of Stone Age hunter-fisher daily life in Latvia

  • Brinker, Ute1
  • Bērziņš, Valdis2
  • Ceriņa, Aija2
  • Gerhards, Guntis2
  • Kalniņš, Mārcis2
  • Krause-Kyora, Ben3
  • Lübke, Harald1
  • Meadows, John1
  • Meinel, Dietmar4
  • Ritchie, Kenneth1
  • Rudzīte, Mudīte2
  • Tõrv, Mari5
  • Zagorska, Ilga2
  • Schmölcke, Ulrich1
  • 1 Centre for Baltic and Scandinavian Archaeology, Schleswig, Germany , Schleswig (Germany)
  • 2 University of Latvia, Riga, Latvia , Riga (Latvia)
  • 3 University of Kiel, Kiel, Germany , Kiel (Germany)
  • 4 Bundesanstalt für Materialforschung und -prüfung (BAM), Berlin, Germany , Berlin (Germany)
  • 5 University of Tartu, Tartu, Estonia , Tartu (Estonia)
Published Article
Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences
Springer Berlin Heidelberg
Publication Date
Apr 06, 2020
DOI: 10.1007/s12520-020-01049-7
Springer Nature


The Stone Age site Riņņukalns, Latvia, is the only well-stratified shell midden in the Eastern Baltic. In this paper, we present new interdisciplinary results concerning its dating, stratigraphy, features, and finds to shed light on the daily life of a fisher population prior to the introduction of domesticated animals. The undisturbed part of the midden consists of alternating layers of unburnt mussel shell, burnt mussel shell and fish bone, containing artefacts, some mammal and bird bones, and human burials. Two of them, an adult man and a baby, are discovered recently and date to the calibration plateau between 3350 and 3100 cal BC, and to the later 4th millennium, respectively. Stable isotopes suggest a diet based heavily on freshwater fish, and this is supported not only by ten thousands of identified fish remains, but also by a fish bone concentration nearby the skull of the man, which is interpreted as remain of a grave gift (possible fish soup). Of special interest are the baby’s stable isotope values. It shows that the mother’s diet was atypical (perhaps because she was non-local), and/or that dietary stress during pregnancy increased fractionation between the mother’s diet and her bloodstream.

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