In this research project, isotopic analyses (87Sr/86Sr, δ18O, δ15N, δ13C) of prehistoric human and faunal skeletal remains from the Western Eurasian steppe belt are conducted and interpreted within an archaeological context. Several hundred samples were taken from micro regions between the Altai Mountains, the Eurasian steppe belt and the eastern European plains in Hungary and Bulgaria (figure 1). The chronological focus is on the 3rd millennium BC, where there is evidence for two cultural communities: the Yamnaya culture (late 4th millennium BC to mid 3rd millennium BC in the Northern Pontic region) and the following and partly overlapping Catacomb culture (about 2800 to 2000/1900 BC). Earlier research approaches regarded the members of these populations as nomads. Recent research has mostly rejected this interpretation, with archaeologists citing a subsistence economy largely based on animal husbandry and a multitude of grave monuments (kurgans) in comparison to the small number of known settlements as evidence for partly nomadic or pastoral ways of life. In this project I will be following a different path by attempting to characterize the mobility behaviour and possible migrations of these individuals using strontium and oxygen isotope analyses. The data will then be compared to samples from the same regions but from the preceding Eneolithic and the later Iron Age, a period for which written sources indicate high mobility of the Scythian tribes. The strontium isotope analysis is conducted at the University of Bristol, while the samples for oxygen isotopes are prepared there and sent for further analysis to the RLAHA at the University of Oxford in cooperation with the University of Bristol. The answer to the second key question regarding the palaeodiet and subsistence economy of selected sites in the Northern Pontic will be approached by the application of carbon and nitrogen isotope analysis. In the end the large isotopic dataset will be interpreted in combination with the archaeological hypotheses and data.
Claudia Gerling is currently a postdoctoral fellow in Topoi, Research Group A-2. Her research focuses on the synthesis and interpretation of the scientific (stable isotope and palaeogenetic analysis) and the archaeological data previously obtained in Research Group A-II in Topoi 1, but she is also interested in the theoretical backgrounds of the economy, ecology and mobility in non-sedentary communities.
Claudia studied Prehistoric Archaeology, Classical Archaeology and History of Arts at the Universities of Würzburg, Vienna and Naples. In 2012 she completed her PhD within the Cluster of Excellence Topoi, research group innovations (A-II). In this context Claudia was working on the mobility and diet of the steppe peoples in prehistoric Western Eurasia, a topic she approached mainly through isotope analysis. As a member of Topoi she was based at the Freie Universität Berlin for the theoretical part of the project, but conducted isotope analyses at the Universities of Bristol and Southampton. Her many travels to and fro make her a good example of a modern, highly mobile individual, paralleling the objects of her study.