Living off the land: Terrestrial-based diet and dairying in the farming communities of the Neolithic Balkans

Darko Stojanovski, Ivana Živaljević, Vesna Dimitrijević, Julie Dunne, Richard P Evershed, Marie Balasse, Adam Dowle, Jessica Hendy, Krista McGrath, Roman Fischer, Camilla Speller, Jelena Jovanović, Emmanuelle Casanova, Timothy Knowles, Lidija Balj, Goce Naumov, Anđelka Putica, Andrej Starović, Sofija Stefanović

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The application of biomolecular techniques to archaeological materials from the Balkans is providing valuable new information on the prehistory of the region. This is especially relevant for the study of the neolithisation process in SE Europe, which gradually affected the rest of the continent. Here, to answer questions regarding diet and subsistence practices in early farming societies in the central Balkans, we combine organic residue analyses of archaeological pottery, taxonomic and isotopic study of domestic animal remains and biomolecular analyses of human dental calculus. The results from the analyses of the lipid residues from pottery suggest that milk was processed in ceramic vessels. Dairy products were shown to be part of the subsistence strategies of the earliest Neolithic communities in the region but were of varying importance in different areas of the Balkan. Conversely, milk proteins were not detected within the dental calculus. The molecular and isotopic identification of meat, dairy, plants and beeswax in the pottery lipids also provided insights into the diversity of diet in these early Neolithic communities, mainly based on terrestrial resources. We also present the first compound-specific radiocarbon dates for the region, obtained directly from absorbed organic residues extracted from pottery, identified as dairy lipids.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0237608
Pages (from-to)e0237608
Number of pages27
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - 20 Aug 2020

Bibliographical note

©2020 Stojanovski et al.


  • Agriculture/methods
  • Animals
  • Archaeology
  • Balkan Peninsula
  • Ceramics/chemistry
  • Dairying/methods
  • Diet
  • Farmers
  • Humans
  • Lipids/analysis
  • Milk/chemistry
  • Milk Proteins/analysis
  • Waxes

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