Overall Diet

Wear on teeth, or dental attrition, is an indication of an abrasive diet, and is fairly common on the human remains from chamber tombs in the Highland region, increasing in severity with the age of the individual. For example, dental attrition can be seen on an adult female buried at Tulloch of Assery A: (MHG981; Lunt in Corcoran 1966, 60). The use of stone querns to grind cereals is likely to be a major contributor to the phenomenon, with fragments of stone becoming mixed with the ground grain. Dental microwear analysis by McLaughlin (2008) on individuals from Tulloch of Assery B (MHG932), Tulach an t’Sionnaich (MHG926), Embo (MHG11630) and Rattar East (MHG8910) has provided some further details, although analysis of Rattar East was unsuccessful and the quality of the data retrieved from the Tulloch of Assery B and Tulach an t’Sionnaich individuals was poor (ibid, 144). McLaughlin was, however, able to discern significant differences in the pattern of microwear between individuals from Embo and those buried at Quanterness passage tomb in Orkney, suggesting a possible difference in diet (McLaughlin 2008 144–5, 190–1 and fig. 7.17). Further research into the topic, to elicit more information about what was eaten and how it was processed, is recommended.

Carbon and nitrogen isotopic analysis can reveal details about diet. The analyses so far undertaken by Rick Schulting and Mike Richards have shown that the diet was terrestrial. If any marine resources were consumed, then these will not have constituted a sufficiently high proportion of the diet to show in the isotopic results. Interestingly, there seem to be differences in the carbon and nitrogen isotope results between individuals buried in passage tombs in the Highland region, those buried in Clyde cairns in south-west and west Scotland and in west Scottish caves, and those at An Corran rock shelter on Skye (MHG6497; Sheridan and Schulting 2020, fig. 18.5). The possible reasons for these differences are to be investigated further to determine whether they indicate differences in diet or simply differences relating to the geochemistry of the area or of agricultural practices such as manuring.

Milner and Craig’s (2012) carbon and nitrogen isotope analysis of human remains from An Corran led them to conclude that there had been some consumption of marine foods, however

“The stable isotope values…indicate a predominantly terrestrial diet, supplemented with various amounts of marine products as indicated by slightly enriched d13C values. These individuals consumed more marine foods than Neolithic humans from either Crarae (Schulting and Richards 2002) or Carding Mill Bay (Connock et al 1992), but did not have the ‘extreme’ marine diets that characterise the humans buried on Oronsay, particularly Cnoc Coig (Milner and Craig 2009).”

(Milner and Craig 2012, 79)

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