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Application of lipid biomarker analysis to evaluate the function of 'slab-lined pits' in Arctic Norway

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JournalJournal of archaeological science
DatePublished - Sep 2010
Issue number9
Volume37
Number of pages10
Pages (from-to)2188-2197
Original languageEnglish

Abstract

Gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC MS) and bulk carbon isotope determinations have been performed on samples ('cemented organic residues', charcoal, sediment and fire-cracked rock) excavated from 12 slab-lined pits from various locations in Arctic Norway to test the premise that these archaeological features were used for the extraction of oil from the blubber of marine mammals, such as seal, whale and walrus. A wide range of lipid compound classes were detected especially in the cemented organic residues and in the charcoal samples. The presence of long-chain unsaturated and isoprenoid fatty acids together with oxidation and thermal alteration products of unsaturated acids such as dicarboxylic acids, dihydroxyfatty acids and omega-(o-alkylphenyl)alkanoic acids suggests that these features were used for marine oil extraction at elevated temperatures. Notably the location of the hydroxyl groups in the dihydroxyfatty acids provides a record of the positional isomer of the precursor fatty acid and allows confirmation that 11-docosenoic (cetoleic) acid, the most abundant C-22:1 isomer in marine oil, was a major component of the original lipid. Further information was provided by the presence of long-chain fatty acyl moieties in surviving triacylglycerols and the presence of cholesterol. A fungal metabolite, mycose (trehalose), was found in all samples apart from a fire-cracked rock and points to microbiological activity in the pits. Bulk isotope analysis conducted on the 'cemented organic residues' is consistent with modern reference samples of blubber and oil from seal and whale. These data provide clear analytical evidence of the function of slab-lined pits in the archaeological record and suggest widespread exploitation of marine mammals for producing oil for heating, lighting and myriad other uses in the past. (C) 2010 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

    Research areas

  • Gas chromatography-mass spectrometry, Lipids, Marine oil, Dihydroxyfatty acids, Slab-lined pits, Arctic Norway, ARCHAEOLOGICAL POTTERY VESSELS, WHALES DELPHINAPTERUS-LEUCAS, MARINE ANIMAL PRODUCTS, FATTY-ACID-COMPOSITION, MASS-SPECTROMETRY, GAS-CHROMATOGRAPHY, ORGANIC RESIDUES, SITE, IDENTIFICATION, BLUBBER

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