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On salt, copper and gold

Catherine Marro
Thomas Stöllner

Early mining and metallurgy within their broader economic context

Is there homogeneity in Georgian Kura-Araxes human dietary practices?

Estelle Herrscher, Modwene Poulmarc’h, Liana Bitadze, Nikoloz Vanishvili et Guy André


Le changement démographique observable à la période kuro-araxe, ainsi que la diversité des productions céramiques, des activités métallurgiques et des pratiques funéraires soulèvent la question de la diversité alimentaire dans ces sociétés. Par ailleurs, l’adoption de différents modes de vie basés sur l’élevage et l’agriculture, ou encore le nomadisme opposé au sédentarisme amènent à des questionnements sur la disponibilité des ressources alimentaires et leurs liens avec le lieu d’implantation. Afin de contribuer à une meilleure connaissance des caractéristiques économiques et sociales des sociétés kuro-araxes et de leur « identité culturelle », cet article se penche sur les pratiques alimentaires, en réexaminant le matériel anthropologique de deux populations montagnardes géorgiennes des zones de Kiketi et Tiselis Seri. Cet article se propose d’analyser d’une part les relations entre les populations kuro-araxes vivant en altitude et leur environnement ; et d’autre part, l’homogénéité du régime alimentaire des populations kuro-araxes.
Pour retracer les pratiques alimentaires humaines, on a eu recours à l’analyse des rapports isotopiques du carbone et de l’azote (δ13Ccoll, δ13Cap et δ15N). Les données sur le collagène et l’apatite des sujets humains montrent un régime comprenant la même quantité de protéines animales à Kiketi qu’à Tiselis Seri. D’après des données isotopiques publiées antérieurement, les habitants de ces deux zones auraient consommé moins de protéines animales que ceux de Chobareti. Nos résultats corroborent les données archéozoologiques et semblent indiquer une faible mobilité de la population. La variabilité isotopique inter-individuelle au sein de ces populations vivant en altitude en Géorgie signale l’absence de pratiques spécifiques distinguant les hommes et les femmes ; on ne relève pas non plus de différence entre les membres d’un même groupe inhumés ensemble dans des tombes collectives. Ceci pourrait être interprété comme le signe d’une société égalitaire, confirmant une théorie déjà avancée par d’autres chercheurs.

Texte intégral

The radiocarbon analyses were carried out at the Radiocarbon Laboratory of Poznan under the supervision of Tomasz Goslar (, Poland), and as part of the ARTEMIS program by Sébastien Nomade and Jean-Pascal Dumoulin (CEA, Saclay, France). The stable isotope measurements were made under the supervision of Steve Brookes (Iso-Analytical Ltd, Crewe Cheshire, United Kingdom). The authors are indebted to Louise Byrne for her valuable correction of the English manuscript.


1The Kura-Araxes (KA) culture marks the beginning of the Early Bronze Age in the South Caucasus. The origin of this culture is still under debate among a number of scholars. If there is a consensus as to its chronological position between the middle of the 4th millennium and the middle of the 3rd millennium BC (Palumbi 2008, 2016; Palumbi, Chataigner 2014), recent archaeological discoveries at Ovçular Tepesi could date it back to the 5th millennium BC (Marro, Bakhshaliyev, Berthon 2014, 2015). Many changes are related to the use of new materials, and the development of a new ceramic tradition, house architecture and funerary practices point to radical changes between the Late Chalcolithic and the Early Bronze Age in cultural, social and economic terms. However, several aspects also support the hypothesis of continuity with Chalcolithic traditions, observable during the early phase of the KA period (Palumbi 2016). The typical KA ceramics (Palumbi 2008; Kohl 2007), the development of metallurgical activities (Courcier 2007, 2014; Stöllner et al. 2014), as well as the increase in the number of sites after the second half of the 4th millennium, together with the diversification of the ecological niches in which the sites were established, also confirm the spread of KA populations throughout the whole of the South Caucasus. Owing to better climatic conditions during the KA period (Connor, Kvavadze 2014), numerous settlements were founded in the plains and in the mountains, as for instance at Kiketi, Tiselis Seri and Chobareti in Georgia. No social differences are recorded in the domestic architecture and village plans, which argues for a horizontal society in KA communities (Sagona 1993; Palumbi 2008).

2The spatial dissociation of tombs and habitats appeared at the end of the Chalcolithic and became widespread from the first half of the 3rd millennium onwards, which raises the question of the relationship between the dead and the habitat where all the daily life activities took place. Archaeological data support an “internal” development of funerary practices and their diversification and complexification throughout the KA period (Poulmarc’h 2014). Tomb types became more diversified. In addition to pit graves and kurgans, two other types of tombs appear: stone tombs of variable forms and cists (Poulmarc’h 2014). The position of the deceased appears to be homogeneous, with a flexed position on the side, except for the Kalavan‑1 site in Armenia, where one skeleton was found in a seated position (Poulmarc’h et al. 2016).

3Judging from the archaeozoological data, at least in the Kura basin, the KA subsistence economy appears to be more homogeneous when compared with the Chalcolithic period: it is characterized by livestock, dominated by cattle, sheep and goats, where all the resources are used, such as meat, secondary products (milk), but also wool and skins (Decaix et al. 2019a; Davoudi et al. 2018). No specialization of herding management appears for these Kura-Araxes communities (Palumbi 2008), but domestic herbivore species provided the main source of animal proteins, unlike the pig and hunting activities, which seem to have played a minor role (Decaix et al. 2019a; Davoudi et al. 2018). Farming activities were mainly oriented towards the cultivation of cereals, mostly barley and naked and hulled wheat, while the presence of seeds also indicates the gathering of wild edible fruits (Hovsepyan 2015). In contrast to the Araxes Valley, sites in the Kura valley did not yield pulses (Badalyan et al. 2014; Hovsepyan 2015; Decaix et al. 2019b). The presence of crops, seeds and harvest sub-products would suggest that plants were cultivated locally (Messager et al. 2015; Decaix 2016; Decaix et al. 2019b). Although until recently the management of domestic herbivorous animals with transhumance and pastoralism practices was considered as one of the most typical traits of Kura-Araxes herders (Sagona 1993; Palumbi 2008), the recent excavation of Chobareti in the Samtskhe-Javakheti region supports the hypothesis of a permanent settlement (Kakhiani et al. 2013; Messager et al. 2015). In the same vein, based on village size, environmental changes, as well as increased investment in herding and farming practices (Connor, Kvavadze 2014; Hovsepyan 2015; Palumbi 2016), Kura-Araxes populations could be considered as more sedentary than was previously supposed (Smith 2005; Kakhiani et al. 2013; Palumbi 2016; Longford, Sagona, this volume).

4In contrast to Siberian areas in the eastern part of the Eurasian steppes on which numerous isotope studies were conducted over the last decade (Katzenberg, Weber 1999; Lillie, Richards 2000; Privat et al. 2005; Shishlina et al. 2009, 2016; Shishlina, Hedges 2012; Hollund et al. 2010; Lillie, Budd, Potekhina 2011; Katzenberg et al. 2012; Murphy et al. 2013; Svyatko et al. 2013; Gerling 2014), the South Caucasus has not been yet fully explored (Marshall 2014; Messager et al. 2015; Herrscher, Chkadua, Vanishvili 2016). The isotopic analysis conducted on Late Bronze Age human remains from Armenia in the Tsaghkahovit Plain has highlighted some broad regional trends in terms of diet (Marshall 2014), while the multi-proxy approach to a KA community in southern Georgia has underlined a homogenous diet based on the mixed consumption of domestic herbivore proteins (meat/milk) and C3 cereal proteins, as well as the probable consumption of freshwater fish (Messager et al. 2015). The study of eight individuals buried in the exceptional Ananauri Kurgan no. 3, dating to the end of the Early Bronze Age (Bedeni culture), suggests two mains groups with a differential animal protein intake, thus raising the questions of the social or geographical factors involved in the funerary practices of monumental kurgans (Herrscher, Chkadua, Vanishvili 2016). In order to discuss these different aspects of KA societies, we examined the diet and subsistence practices of two human skeletal series brought to light at Kiketi and Tiselis Seri in Georgia by using stable carbon and nitrogen isotopes from bone collagen and stable carbon isotopes from bone apatite. This paper aims at reconstructing the dietary diversity of KA societies in mountainous environments in the present territory of Georgia, through the study of the archaeological assemblages of two sites located in widely different geographical settings, Kiketi in Kvemo Kartli and Tiselis Seri in Samtskhe-Javakheti; this study will as also include the previously published data of Chobareti, a Kura-Araxes (KA) site also located in the Samtskhe-Javakheti region (Kakhiani et al. 2013; Messager et al. 2015).

The principles of stable isotope analysis and its role in palaeodietary reconstruction

5Food characteristics can be recorded in bone collagen and apatite carbonate in different ways, which makes it possible to obtain information about different types of macronutrients such as proteins, lipids and carbohydrates (Katzenberg 2008). Stable carbon and nitrogen isotope ratios measured on bone collagen are derived from the metabolism synthesis, and provide information on the type of dietary proteins (terrestrial, marine) and their trophic levels (plants, meat) (Schoeninger 2010), whereas carbon isotope ratios measured in bone apatite carbonate yield information on the whole diet, corresponding to energy such as lipids, carbohydrates and other proteins not used for collagen (Ambrose, Norr 1993). Stable isotope ratios measured on compact bone collagen or apatite have a slow rate of remodeling and focus on the diet of an individual’s later life, that is the last 10‑15 years prior to death (Hedges et al. 2007). In the context of the South Caucasus, where we are primarily interested in the contribution to the diet of food items with (1) a high trophic level, such as animal proteins (domestic and wild animals, meat/milk), and freshwater fish and (2) a low trophic level, such as cereals, it is relevant to merge stable isotope data from collagen and apatite in order to identify dietary characteristics.

6High carbon stable isotope ratios (13C) characterize C4‑plants (maize, millet) and marine organisms, compared to C3‑plants (wheat, oats, barley, legumes) and terrestrial organisms, making it possible to determine the consumers of these different food items (Vogel, van der Merwe 1977; Ambrose et al. 1997; Fischer et al. 2007). Plants, at the base of the food chain, can be influenced by environmental factors, such as humidity and precipitation, temperature and altitude, inducing consecutive isotope changes in the consumer’s tissue (Heaton 1999; Van Klinken, Richards, Hedges 2000). Nitrogen stable isotope ratios can distinguish consumers of plant proteins (lower values) and consumers of animal proteins (higher values) on account of a stepwise enrichment in 15N at each trophic level of an ecosystem (Bocherens, Drucker 2003). Nitrogen stable isotope ratios can also help to identify the consumers of marine or freshwater proteins as aquatic systems have longer food chains than terrestrial ones (Schoeninger, DeNiro 1984). Whereas a correlation between carbon and nitrogen isotope ratios is sufficient to ascertain a marine resource intake (Valentin et al. 2014), consumers of freshwater fish can be more difficult to identify than marine fish consumers as freshwater resources can show wide carbon and nitrogen isotope variability (Dufour, Bocherens, Mariotti 1999; Katzenberg, Weber 1999). Low δ15N values may suggest the consumption of leguminous plants, such as peas and lentils (Lösch, Grupe, Peters 2006). These plant types are particularly interesting for studying South Caucasian diets since macrobotanical remains were recovered in the region from the Neolithic layers of different locations (Hovsepyan, Willcox 2008; Decaix 2012). Unlike other anthropic and environmental factors, such as aridity, the use of manure in farming practices can also increase the nitrogen isotope ratios of plants and consumers’ tissues (Schwarcz Dupras, Fairgrieve 1999; Bogaard, Heaton, Poulton 2007). In order to ensure the most reliable interpretation of human isotope ratios, including the influence of the local environmental and anthropic factors in the studied area, the stable isotope ratio measurements need to be carried out on as many potential archaeological food items as possible (Herrscher, Le Bras-Goude 2010; Kinaston et al. 2014).

7Bone collagen consumer carbon isotope ratios are enriched in heavy isotopes by 0‑2‰ compared to collagen food resource ratios (Bocherens, Drucker 2003), and nitrogen isotope ratios exhibit an enrichment of 3‑5‰ between two consecutive collagen trophic levels (consumer tissue-food resource) (Bocherens, Drucker 2003; Hedges, Reynard 2007).

8To sum up, considering the South Caucasian environment, our objectives are to use (1) bone collagen carbon stable isotope ratios to identify the consumption of proteins from the terrestrial C3 environment (lower values) versus those deriving from the terrestrial C4 environment (higher values) and (2) bone collagen nitrogen isotope ratios to decipher the consumption of animal meat or secondary products (higher values) versus cereals from agriculture (lower values). Using carbon isotope ratios on bone apatite, the additional objective is to clarify the consumption of low protein resources, such as wheat and barley, versus C4‑plants.

Georgian Kura-Araxes sites and material for isotope analysis

Kiketi site

9The site of Kiketi is located on the west bank of the Asureti-Tskali, a tributary of the Algeti river, in the plain of Kvemo Kartli, at 1,200 m asl (fig. 1). It was discovered during the first excavations carried out by Pchelina in 1923, then excavated again and published by Kuftin in the 1940s (1944, 1948), and subsequently by Pkhakadze in the 1960s (Pkhakadze 1963). The archaeological data mentions thirty tombs and six pits over a surface of 1,200 m², divided into a necropolis and a temporary settlement, but only 14 tombs are described in Pkhakadze 1963. Two types of burials were observed: nine are pit burials (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 10, 11 and 13) and five are “horseshoe burials” (7, 8, 9, 12 and 14). All the pit burials were covered with a pile of stones, apart from graves 3 and 5, which were covered by rectangular slabs (Pkhakadze 1963). No indication of the covering of the horseshoe graves is given. The archaeological material discovered in the graves consisted of ceramics, animal bones, bone industry and beads. After re-examination of the ceramic typology, associated with radiocarbon dates, the authors put forward that the necropolis was used between 3200‑2800 BC (Sagona 1984; Palumbi 2008), with two chronological phases: a first phase corresponding to the burials attributed to Phases I and II (3200‑2800 BC), and a later phase corresponding to the tombs ascribed to Phase III (3000‑2800 BC), as proposed by Pkhakadze (1963, tab. 1). Grave 7 is the only one containing a single individual whereas all the other graves comprise between two and eleven individuals (tab. 1). Iconographical data and drawings did not allow for the characterization of the type of funerary practices, or indicate whether the graves were collective or plural tombs (Poulmarc’h 2014). According to Pkhakadze (1963), skulls were absent from three of the pit graves (3, 4, 5). The renewed examination of human bone remains from graves (4, 5, 6), excavated by Kuftin in 1948 and housed at the Georgian National Museum, revealed the presence of numerous mingled bones, such as skulls, mandibles and teeth associated with lower and upper limb bones and vertebrae, raising the question of post-decomposition bone removal (Poulmarc’h 2014). Despite the presence of labels in the boxes, which indicate that the bones come from the graves excavated by Kuftin, we cannot exclude problems of subsequent mixing with other collections (Poulmarc’h 2014). To avoid any bias in the stable isotope analysis, seven samples were taken from the cranial bones (tab. 1).

Fig. 1 – Location of the Georgian Kura-Araxes sites under study (M. Poulmarc’h).

Fig. 1 – Location of the Georgian Kura-Araxes sites under study (M. Poulmarc’h).

Tab. 1 – Kiketi anthropological data.

#Burial Pkhakadze 1963 Poulmarc’h 2014 Isotope analysis
Excavated by Phase N-Ind Biological study
1 Kuftin in 1948 II 4 no bones  
2 Kuftin in 1948 II no bones no bones  
3 Kuftin in 1948 III 3‑4 no bones  
4 Kuftin in 1948   4 3 adults, 1 subadult 3 skulls
5 Kuftin in 1948   2 1 adult 1 skull
6 Kuftin in 1948 II 4 8 adults, 1 subadult 3 skulls
7* Pkhakadze in 1961 III 1 no bones  
8* Pkhakadze in 1961 II 3 no bones  
9* Pkhakadze in 1961 III 6 skulls no bones  
10 Pkhakadze in 1961 II 4 no bones  
11 Pkhakadze in 1961   3 no bones  
12* Pkhakadze in 1961 II 6 no bones  
13 Pkhakadze in 1961 II 4 no bones  
14* Pkhakadze in 1961 I/II 11 no bones  

* “Horseshoe burial”.

10The local isotopic reference was established from the animal bones found in the Kiketi tombs. Two cattle bones and five sheep bones were sampled (tab. 1). To check on any possible mixing of the post-excavation collection, four new radiocarbon dates were carried out on human and animal bones (tab. 2). Burial 5 appears to be the earliest, since it was dated to the last quarter of the 4th millennium and the first quarter of the 3rd millennium BC, while burial 4 dates to the beginning of the 3rd millennium BC (together with the analyzed animal bones) and burial 6 to the 2nd quarter of the 3rd millennium BC.

Tab. 2 – Radiocarbon dates for Kiketi bioarchaeological samples (calibration: OxCal v4.2.3; Bronk-Ramsey 2013).

        14C dates results Calibrated dates cal. BC (95.4% probability)
#Lab code 14C Lab Code Burial Nature Cal. BP min max
CG01 Poz-60845 Burial 6, Skull 1 human 4195±35 BP 2895 2666
CG04 Poz-56572 Burial 5 human 4120±35 BP 3325 2920
CG07 Poz-60846 Burial 4, Skull 3 human 4330±30 BP 3019 2894
GKF02 Poz-60847 Burial 4 Ovis sp. 4315±30 BP 3013 2888
GKF06 Poz-60848   Bos sp. 4300±30 BP 3011 2880

Tiselis Seri site

11The site of Tiselis Seri is located in south-western Georgia in the Samstkhe-Javakheti region (Borjomi District, Tadzrisi city) at 1,607 m asl. It was discovered during the development of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline in 2004 (Gogochuri, Orjonikidze 2007; fig. 1). Two graves were discovered in the habitat (no. 1 and 3), while the necropolis comprised eight burials (no. 2, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 and 10). Despite the partial destruction of the architectural structures, the houses seem to have been rectangular with flat roofs (Gogochuri, Orjonikidze 2007), while the village was built on terraced land to adapt to the topography, as in Chobareti and Amiranis Gora in the Samtskhe-Javakheti region (Gogochuri, Orjonikidze 2007, 2010). The artefacts, mostly ceramic sherds, are typical of the KA culture. Numerous stone tools (knurls, drumsticks, sharpening stones, sickles, slats, scrapers, and arrowheads) and an oblique bronze stick were also discovered (Gogochuri, Orjonikidze 2007, 2010). The cultural chronology suggests that the settlement and the necropolis belong to the second quarter of the 3rd millennium BC (Gogochuri, Orjonikidze 2007, 2010).

12The tombs are mainly pit graves (no. 1, 2, 5, 7, 8, 9, and 10), three of which present variable forms (no. 3, 4 and 6) (Poulmarc’h 2014). Without radiocarbon dates, it is difficult to decide whether these two burial types are contemporaneous or whether they belong to two different chronological phases. The deceased bodies (adults or sub-adults) are in a flexed position (upper and lower limbs). The examination of photographic documents made it possible to identify the presence of two double burials (no. 7 and 9): this is the first occurrence in the KA culture of the South Caucasus. The almost identical position of the two individuals, their very close proximity and the interlocking lower limbs, associated with the absence of bone displacement outside the initial volumes of the bodies, suggest the simultaneous deposition of the two corpses, which decomposed in a sealed space (Poulmarc’h 2014). Animal bone deposits are numerous and some of the bone elements were in anatomical connection. Altogether, the ten studied graves yielded twelve individuals, which include eight adults, three subadults and one non-determined individual (Bitadze in Gogochuri, Orjonikidze 2007; tab. 3). The remaining collection comprises only cranium bones, some mandibles or fragments of mandibles, as well as some postcranial bones from seven of the ten graves (Poulmarc’h 2014; tab. 3). Judging by the postcranial bones, the MNI amounts to five individuals, four adults and one subadult. But if we consider the cranial elements, the MNI comprises nine individuals, including eight adults and one subadult (Poulmarc’h 2014; tab. 3). Skull fragments were sampled for isotopic analyses to make sure that different individuals were being analyzed (tab. 3).

Tab. 3 – Tiselis Seri anthropological data.

  Bitadze in Gogochuri, Orjonikidze 2007 Poulmarc’h 2014  
#Burial N-Ind Age group Age Sex Biological study Age/Sex Isotope study
1 1 subadult 8-10 years   no bones    
2 1 unknown unknown unknown no bones    
3 1 subadult 5-6 years   few bones 9-11 yearsa no
4* 1 adult 30-35 years female few bones   skull
5 1 subadult 5-7 years   no bones    
6** 1 adult 40-45 years male few bones   skull
7 2 adult 1
adult 2
50-55 years
40-45 years
few bones
few bones
8** 1 adult 18-20 years female few bones   skull
9* 2 adult 1
adult 2
60-62 years
40-45 years
few bones
few bones
10 1 adult 40-45 years male few bones 20-39 yearsb /malecd no

* Bovid and caprid bones in burial; ** sheep and lamb bones in burial; Schaefer, Black, Scheuer 2009; Schmitt 2005; Murail et al. 2005; Attribution of the coxal bone to burial no. 10 may be uncertain.

13Considering the lack of animal bones available for isotope analysis, we decided to use the isotope animal reference already published for Chobareti as a local isotopic reference for studying Tiselis Seri, since the two sites are located close to each other in a similar ecological mountainous environment.


14Collagen extraction and apatite purification were carried out at the Laboratoire méditerranéen de Préhistoire Europe-Afrique, Aix-Marseille University. After cleaning the bone fragments (250 mg) with distilled water, each bone sample was ground into a powder (>700 µm for collagen and <700 µm for apatite).

15Bone collagen extraction was performed according to the protocol of Longin (1971), modified by Bocherens et al. (1991). This protocol is based on an acidic soak on stirrer (HCl 1M, 20’) for demineralization, followed by a soak in a basic solution (NaOH 0.125M, <18 hours) to remove contaminants. Then, the collagen was solubilized in a weakly acidic solution (HCl pH=2, 17 hours, 100°C) and the purified “collagen” was lyophilized for 48 hours.

16Bone carbonate apatite was purified following the Balasse protocol on 20 mg of bone powder (Balasse et al. 2002). Samples were placed in a 2-3% sodium hypochlorite solution (NaOCl, 0.1 ml/1 mg, 24 h) and then rinsed 5 times with distilled water to remove the NaOCl. To remove diagenetic carbonates, samples were soaked in an acetic acid solution (CH3COOH 1M, 1 h, 1 ml/1 mg). Samples were then rinsed again 5 times with distilled water by centrifugation and dried overnight in an oven at 65°C.

17Pre-weighed bone collagen samples were analyzed with a Europa Scientific elemental analyzer connected to a Europa Scientific 20‑20 (IRMS), while carbonate apatite samples were analyzed by a Europa Scientific 20‑20 (CF‑IRMS) at Iso-Analytical Limited (Cheshire, UK). Stable isotopes are measured relative to standards (PDB for carbon, AIR for nitrogen) and expressed in parts per mil (‰). IAEA standards were used during the analysis of samples. For measuring collagen these standards are bovine liver (IA‑R042), ammonium sulfate (IA‑R045), beet sugar (IA‑R005) and sugar cane (IA‑R006); and for measuring carbonate apatite: calcium carbonate (IA‑R022), carbonatite (NBS‑18), chalk (IA‑R066) and Carrara marble (IAEA‑CO‑1). The reproducibility of measurements is ±0.1‰ for δ13C and δ15N values.

18Bone collagen preservation was checked according to several criteria, such as the extraction yield (≥10 mg.g-1), the percentages of C and N (%C≥30% and %N≥11%) and the atomic C/N ratio (between 2.9 to 3.6) (DeNiro 1985; Ambrose 1990; Van Klinken 1999). As no valid criteria exist to check apatite preservation (Salesse et al. 2014), at first only samples with good collagen were considered. Then, bone apatite preservation was evaluated using several criteria provided by IsoA Lab, including the CO2 gas volume (0.6<vol.%<1.3; Ambrose 1993), the calcium carbonate weight (CaCO3%; 5≤CaCO3%≤6; Legeros, Legeros 1984) and the CO2 volume/weight index reported by Salesse (1.1<index<1.3; Salesse 2015).

19In order to characterize the Kura-Araxes diet of the Kiketi, Tiselis Seris, and Chobareti groups, stable isotope data on apatite were considered as a complementary proxy. A multi-isotopic model was used, including δ15N values in addition to δ13Ccoll and δ13Cap values (Froehle, Kellner, Schoeninger 2012a, 2012b). With this model, it is possible to identify the type of environment from which the proteins derived (C3, C4 or marine) and the trophic level of individuals. This model integrates five dietary references (clusters) based on several northern and southern Prehistoric American populations.

Results and discussion

Preservation of collagen and apatite data

20Apart from one human GTS03 sample, all the samples have a collagen yield of more than 57.6 mg.g-1 for animals and 14.9 mg.g-1 for humans (tab. 4‑5). The animal and human weight content ranges from 33.8 to 44.7% for carbon and from 12.7 to 16.2% for nitrogen and C:N atomic ratios are between 3.1 and 3.3. Judging by the classical criteria used to check the preservation of collagen samples (DeNiro 1985; Ambrose 1990; Van Klinken 1999), only one previously mentioned human sample should not be considered as reliable, and it has been excluded from the discussion. The data set comprises reliable collagen samples from 13 humans.

Tab. 4 – Elemental and stable isotope data of animal collagen from the Georgian Kura-Araxes sites; GK: Kiketi, CHO: Chobareti (Messager et al. 2015).

#Lab code Archaeol. data Species Skeletal element Yld (mg/g) %C %N C/N δ13C (‰) δ15N (‰)
GKF05   Bos taurus Ulna 93.2 39.2 14.0 3.2 –13.1 5.6
GKF06a   Bos taurus Radius 70.5 37.2 13.2 3.3 –12.3 5.1
GKF01   Ovis/Capra Mandible 57.6 41.3 14.7 3.3 –13.7 6.3
GKF02a Grave 4 Ovis/Capra Mandible 60.3 37.5 13.3 3.3 –14.4 6.7
GKF03 Grave 4 Ovis/Capra Mandible 87.4 42.8 15.1 3.3 –18.8 4.4
GKF04 Grave 4 Ovis/Capra Mandible 73.4 38.4 13.5 3.3 –19.7 5.2
GKF07   Ovis/Capra Femur 120.1 41.5 14.6 3.3 –20.0 4.9
      Mean 80.4 39.7 14.1 3.3 –16.0 5.5
      N 7 7 7 7 7 7
      Min 57.6 37.2 13.2 3.2 –20.0 4.4
      Max 120.1 42.8 15.1 3.3 –12.3 6.7
      SD 21.8 2.2 0.8 0.0 3.4 0.8
CHOF01 Trench I Bos sp. Femur 44.0 14.6 40.1 3.2 –19.9 6.0
CHOF02 Trench I Bos sp. Radius 67.4 14.8 41.0 3.2 –18.9 5.5
CHOF04 Trench I Bos sp. Astragale 58.2 14.3 39.4 3.2 –20.2 8.1
CHOF05 Trench I Bos sp. Calcaneum 75.6 14.4 39.9 3.2 –20.0 6.1
CHOF06 Trench I Bos sp. Phalange 15.6 14.1 39.4 3.2 –19.2 5.1
CHOF09 House 4 Bos sp. Astragale 81.5 14.6 40.4 3.2 –19.2 7.9
CHOF10 House 5 Bos sp. Radius 40.2 13.7 37.4 3.2 –19.6 4.6
CHOF12 House 6 Bos sp. Radius 101.7 15.3 42.6 3.2 –20.5 5.3
CHOF31 Pit 4 Bos taurus Mandible 128.3 35.8 13.1 3.2 –19.4 7.9
CHOF30 Pit 4 Bison Calcaneum 149.9 38.6 14.4 3.1 –18.5 7.1
CHOF11 House 7 Ovis sp. Humerus 73.6 39.8 14.6 3.2 –18.4 3.3
CHOF32 Pit 4 Ovis/Capra Femur 156.9 41.6 15.3 3.2 –19.6 5.0
CHOF33 Pit 4 Ovis/Capra Mandible 130.1 38.0 13.9 3.2 –19.4 4.9
CHOF34 Pit 4 Ovis/Capra Radius 164.7 39.9 14.7 3.1 –19.0 4.5
CHOF35 Pit 4 Ovis/Capra Humerus 120.3 40.4 14.7 3.2 –19.5 5.9
CHOF36 Pit 4 Ovis/Capra Femur 116.4 41.4 15.1 3.2 –19.5 4.3
CHOF37 Pit 5 Ovis/Capra Metapode 94.4 36.1 13.2 3.2 –19.9 6.3
CHOF38 Pit 4 Ovis/Capra Mandible 126.3 38.7 14.1 3.2 –19.1 5.7
CHOF39 Pit 4 Ovis/Capra Tibia 155.6 38.9 14.2 3.2 –19.5 4.1
CHOF40 Pit 6 Ovis/Capra Rib 146.5 39.0 14.2 3.2 –19.3 5.2
CHOF41 Pit 13 Ovis aries Phalanx 204.4 38.4 14.1 3.2 –20.0 5.9
      Mean 107.2 39.4 14.3 3.2 –19.5 5.7
      N 21 21 21 21 21 21
      Min 15.6 35.8 13.1 3.1 –20.5 3.3
      Max 204.4 42.6 15.3 3.2 –18.4 8.1
      SD 48.1 1.7 0.6 0.0 0.5 1.3

a Radiocarbon-dated samples (tab. 2).

Tab. 5a – Collagen and apatite elemental and stable isotope data of human individuals from the sites of Kiketi (CG), Tiselis Seri (GTS) and Chobareti (CHO).

#Lab code Burial Individual Skeletal element Yld (mg/g) %C %N


δ13Ccoll (‰) δ15N (‰)
CG01 Burial 6 Skull 1 skull 68.4 42.3 15.2 3.2 –19.2 9.6
CG02 Burial 6 Skull 3 skull 14.9 39.9 14.3 3.2 –19 9.3
CG03 Burial 6 Skull 7 skull 144.1 44.7 16.2 3.2 –19.1 9.4
CG04 Burial 5   skull 130.7 43.6 15.7 3.2 –19.1 10
CG05 Burial 4 Skull 1 skull 46.3 42.5 15.4 3.2 –19.2 10
CG06 Burial 4 Skull 2 skull 155.9 38.6 13.9 3.2 –19.8 9
CG07 Burial 4 Skull 3 skull 182.9 41.6 15 3.2 –18.8 9.2
      Mean 106.2 41.9 15.1 3.2 –19.2 9.5
      N 7 7 7 7 7 7
      Min 14.9 38.6 13.9 3.2 –19.8 9.0
      Max 182.9 44.7 16.2 3.2 –18.8 10.0
      SD 62.9 2.1 0.8 0.0 0.3 0.4
GTS01 Burial 4   skull 74.4 34.7 12.8 3.1 –19.7 8.5
GTS02 Burial 6   skull 40.4 33.8 12.7 3.1 –19.3 9.6
GTS03 Burial 7 Ind 1 femur 3.6          
GTS04 Burial 7 Ind 2 skull 196.1 38.3 14 3.2 –19 9.1
GTS05 Burial 8   skull 47 37.1 13.9 3.1 –19 9.1
GTS06 Burial 9 Ind 1 skull 151.7 39.7 14.6 3.1 –19.3 8.8
GTS07 Burial 9 Ind 2 skull 56.6 38.4 14.1 3.2 –19.5 9.3
      Mean 81.4 37.0 13.7 3.1 –19.3 9.1
      N 7 6 6 6 6 6
      Min 3.6 33.8 12.7 3.1 –19.7 8.5
      Max 196.1 39.7 14.6 3.2 –19.0 9.6
      SD 67.9 2.3 0.8 0.1 0.3 0.4
CHO H01a Burial 1 (M*; 25-30) phalanx 104.3 42.1 15.7 3.1 –19.0 9.8
CHO H02a Burial 2 Ind 1 (F*; 40‑45) skull 58.7 38.9 14.1 3.2 –18.7 10.8
CHO H03a Burial 2 Ind 3 (M*; 50‑55) skull 30.6 35.2 12.7 3.2 –18.8 11.2
CHO H04a Burial 2 Ind 4(F; 20‑29) skull 78.4 41.0 15.1 3.2 –18.9 10.8
CHO H05a Burial 5 (M*; 30‑35) phalanx 57.3 40.1 14.8 3.1 –18.8 11.0
CHO H06a Burial 7   skullb 33.6 40.9 14.9 3.2 –18.7 10.1
CHO H07a Burial 8 Ind 1 (F; >40) phalanx 114.9 41.3 15.0 3.2 –18.9 9.9
CHO H08a Burial 9   skullb 46.6 38.6 14.1 3.2 –18.1 13.9
CHO H09a Burial 8 Ind 2 (25‑30) skull 40.8 37.9 13.7 3.2 –19.0 11.0
CHO H10a Burial 4 (F*) skull 106.9 37.9 13.8 3.2 –19.3 10.5
      Mean 67.2 39.4 14.4 3.2 –18.8 10.9
      N 10 10 10 10 10 10
      Min 30.6 35.2 12.7 3.1 –19.3 9.8
      Max 114.9 42.1 15.7 3.2 –18.1 13.9
      SD 31.8 2.1 0.9 0.0 0.3 1.2

a Collagen data are published in Messager et al. 2015 and apatite data are from this study; b Child of 5 years old for burial 7 and aged of 1 year for burial 9 (Poulmarc’h 2014).


Tab. 5b – Collagen and apatite elemental and stable isotope data of human individuals from the sites of Kiketi (CG), Tiselis Seri (GTS) and Chobareti (CHO).

#Lab code Burial Wght (mg) CO2 (ml) %CaCO3 Index δ13Cap (‰) F1c F2c
CG01 Burial 6 3.9 0.0320 3.7 0.8 –13.9
CG02 Burial 6 3.9 0.0330 3.9 0.9 –13.9
CG03 Burial 6 6 0.0280 2.1 0.5 –13.5
CG04 Burial 5 6 0.0250 1.9 0.4 –13.5
CG05 Burial 4 6.1 0.0790 5.8 1.3 –14.1 –6.9711 0.4592
CG06 Burial 4 6.2 0.0770 5.5 1.2 –12.8 –7.1783 –0.6973
CG07 Burial 4 6.4 0.0710 4.9 1.1 –13.2 –6.5338 –0.2921
    5.5 0.0493 4.0 0.9 –13.6 –6.894 –0.177
    7 7 7 7 7 3 3
    3.9 0.0250 1.9 0.4 –14.1 –7.178 –0.697
    6.4 0.0790 5.8 1.3 –12.8 –6.534 0.459
    1.1 0.0249 1.6 0.3 0.5 0.329 0.587
GTS01 Burial 4 3.8 0.0350 4.1 0.9 –13.4
GTS02 Burial 6 5.8 0.0640 4.9 1.1 –12.7 –6.7028 –0.3126
GTS03 Burial 7
GTS04 Burial 7 5.9 0.0110 0.8 0.2 –14.2
GTS05 Burial 8 6 0.0570 4.3 1.0 –12.1
GTS06 Burial 9 6 0.0480 3.6 0.8 –14.2
GTS07 Burial 9 5.9 0.0670 5.1 1.1 –12.7 –6.8610 –0.5233
    5.6 0.0470 3.8 0.9 –13.2 –6.7819 –0.4179
    6 6 6 6 6 2 2
    3.8 0.0110 0.8 0.2 –14.2 –6.861 –0.523
    6.0 0.0670 5.1 1.1 –12.1 –6.703 –0.313
    0.9 0.0211 1.6 0.3 0.9 0.112 0.149
CHO H01a Burial 1 5.6 0.0280 2.3 0.5 –12.8    
CHO H02a Burial 2 5.9 0.0530 4.0 0.9 –13.2    
CHO H03a Burial 2              
CHO H04a Burial 2              
CHO H05a Burial 5 3.8 0.0320 3.7 0.8 –12.2    
CHO H06a Burial 7 5.9 0.0450 3.4 0.8 –13.1    
CHO H07a Burial 8 6.1 0.0880 6.5 1.5 –13.6 –6.6166 0.2840
CHO H08a Burial 9  
CHO H09a Burial 8 6.4 0.0620 4.3 1.0 –14.7 –6.7846 1.4025
CHO H10a Burial 4 6.2 0.0790 5.7 1.3 –13.5 –6.7179 0.5334
    5.7 0.0553 4.3 1.0 –13.3 –6.706 0.740
    7 7 7 7 7 3 3
    3.8 0.0280 2.3 0.5 –14.7 –6.785 0.284
    6.4 0.0880 6.5 1.5 –12.2 –6.617 1.403
    0.9 0.0226 1.4 0.3 0.8 0.085 0.587

a Collagen data published in Messager et al. 2015; apatite data: this study; b Child of 5 years old for burial 7 and aged of 1 year for burial 9 (Poulmarc’h 2014); c Calculation of function values based on δ13Ccoll, δ13Cap and δ15N values from Froehle, Kellner, Schoeninger 2012a, 2012b; underlined: values outside range considered for well-preserved samples; in grey: badly preserved samples (see text); in black: samples not analyzed because of missing material.

21Apatite purification was carried out on the 13 human individuals from Kiketi and Tiselis Seri yielding reliable collagen samples (tab. 5). To increase the data set, seven individuals from Chobareti (Messager et al. 2015), in Samtskhe-Javakheti in Georgia, were included for apatite analysis and measured especially for this study. The CO2 gas volume ranges from 0.0106 to 0.881 ml (0.0508±0.0221 ml, n=20), the calcium carbonate weight (CaCO3%) from 0.8 to 6.5% (4.0±1.4%, n=20) and the CO2 volume/weight index from 0.2 to 1.5 (1.4±0.3, n=20) (tab. 5). All the criteria converge for five well-preserved and twelve poorly-preserved samples. These indicators diverge in three samples (CG07, GTS02, CHOH09), but this was considered sufficient to guarantee the good preservation of eight apatite samples since the CO2 gas volume and the CO2 volume/weight index are correct.

Animal stable isotope ratios across Georgia

22Overall, Georgian animal species have yielded δ13C values between –20.5 and –12.3‰ (–18.6±2.3‰, n=28) and δ15N values between 3.3 and 9.9‰ (5.6±1.2‰, n=28) (tab. 4) (Kiketi, Chobareti; see Messager et al. 2015). The widespread superposition of δ15N values is observed for all animals when considered together, but four animals from Kiketi display δ13C values above –14.4‰, which are much higher than all the other animal carbon isotope values (fig. 2). These animals are two Bos taurus and two Ovis/Capra (GKF05, GKF06, GKF01, GKF02) (tab. 4). U Mann‑Whitney tests were carried out for bovid and caprid groups for each site. Only δ13C values exhibit significant differences between the Kiketi and Chobareti bovids, confirming significantly higher δ13C values for the Kiketi bovids (tab. 6; fig. 3).

Fig. 2 – Animal carbon and nitrogen isotope ratios for bovids (Bos sp.), caprids (Ovis sp. and Capra sp.) and wild herbivores (Bison) from the sites of Kiketi (this study) and Chobareti (Messager et al. 2015).

Fig. 2 – Animal carbon and nitrogen isotope ratios for bovids (Bos sp.), caprids (Ovis sp. and Capra sp.) and wild herbivores (Bison) from the sites of Kiketi (this study) and Chobareti (Messager et al. 2015).

Tab. 6 – Results of U Mann‑Whitney for bovid and caprid δ13C (upper part) and δ15N (lower part) values for Kiketi and Chobareti.

BOVID – Sites Kiketi (n=2) Chobareti (n=9)
Kiketi (n=2)   0.04
Chobareti (n=9) 0.43  
CAPRID – Sites Kiketi (n=5) Chobareti (n=11)
Kiketi (n=5)   0.51
Chobareti (n=11) 0.44  

Fig. 3 – Human and animal carbon and nitrogen isotope ratios for Kiketi and Tiselis Seri (this study), as well as Chobareti (median and percentiles, Messager et al. 2015).

Fig. 3 – Human and animal carbon and nitrogen isotope ratios for Kiketi and Tiselis Seri (this study), as well as Chobareti (median and percentiles, Messager et al. 2015).

23Since these archaeological sites are located in two widely contrasting regions of Georgia, respectively in Shida Kartli and Samtskhe-Javakheti, it is possible that environmental factors have impacted the different carbon stable isotope ratios that have been recorded on these sites. The modification of δ13C values according to altitude is mentioned for different organisms with an increase of around 1.0‑1.5‰ per 1,000 m (Heaton 1999; Hobson et al. 2003). Since Kiketi is located at an altitude of 1,200 m asl, as opposed to 1,600 m asl for Chobareti, this hypothesis does not deserve consideration. In addition, the fact that high δ13C values are not observed for 4/7 animals is an additional argument against altitude as a driving force. The forest cover may be a reason for the decrease in carbon stable isotope ratios (Bonafini et al. 2013), and it is possible that the KA environment was more densely forested in Samtskhe-Javakheti than in Shida Kartli. However, another potential factor must be mentioned to explain these higher δ13C values. As said in the method section, a high consumption of C4‑plants, enriched in 13C, can considerably increase the δ13C values of herbivore tissues by comparison of the consumption of C3‑plants alone (Smith, Epstein 1971). C4‑plants, such as Chenopodiaceae or Poaceae, are widespread in the southern Caucasus, and particularly around the Kura Valley, and could match with our results. Although the consumption of these types of plant can explain high carbon isotope ratios, it raises questions regarding the heterogeneity of δ13C values of domestic herbivores at the site of Kiketi. In particular, since we were working on material from the Museum collection, our first challenge was to make sure that the human skeletons and the animal funerary deposits from grave 4 were contemporaneous (tab. 2). Since radiocarbon dates turned out to be concordant, what factors can account for the highly distinct patterns noted among domestic animals? Indeed, in spite of a low number of individuals, it is intriguing to note that out of five caprids, two of them display much higher values (–14.4‰ and –13.1‰ against –20.0‰, –19.7‰ and –18.8‰), while the only two bovid individuals share similar high δ13C values (–13.1‰ and –12.3‰). Considering the δ13C mean animal value of –18.6‰ (n=28), the average isotopic difference between those two “groups” of 5.2‰ is high enough to suggest that the animals grazed in significantly contrasting environments. Two hypotheses can be proposed. The first one may involve differentiated herding managements corresponding to different human social groups/families or depending on the age of the animals. The second one may involve different geographical origins between the animals, suggesting either human mobility, or at least animal mobility due to trade markets. The provenance of these animal samples from human burial graves could also be linked to the status of animals used as funerary deposits.

24To conclude, apart from the isotopic originality of a number of domestic animals with high δ13C values (4/28), no significant isotope variability has been identified by species or geographical location of the sites. Although we must be cautious with this statistical analysis on account of the low number of individuals per species, we can note a significant δ15N difference between bovids and caprids when all the sites are pooled together (U Mann‑Whitney, p<0.01), which makes it possible to identify a differential contribution of these species in the Kura-Araxes consumers’ tissues.

Reconstructing Georgian human dietary practices during the Kura-Araxes period

25The bone collagen data from all the human bones from Kiketi and Tiselis Seri exhibit carbon isotope ratios ranging from –19.8 to –18.8‰ (–19.2±0.3‰, n=13), and nitrogen isotope ratios ranging from 8.5 to 10.0‰ (9.3±0.34‰, n=13) (tab. 5; fig. 4). If we include the isotope data from the site of Chobareti (Messager et al. 2015), the Kruskal‑Wallis test only shows a significant difference for δ15N values (tab. 7). The U Mann‑Whitney tests of the δ13C and δ15N values do not display any differences between the Kiketi and Tiselis Seri sites. By contrast, the individuals from Chobareti exhibit significantly higher δ13C and δ15N values than Kiketi and Tiselis Seri individuals (tab. 5, 7). The bone apatite data show stable carbon isotope ratios between –14.6 and –12.7‰ (–13.4±0.7‰, n=8) (tab. 5). In agreement with the bone collagen data, δ13Cap values, as well as their modeling, show that all macronutrients are obtained from a typical C3 environment that would exclude any significant consumption of marine resources and other C4‑plants (fig. 5). Indeed, all function values fall within the cluster representing a mixed diet based exclusively on C3‑resources (tab. 5; fig. 5). Despite a low number of individuals for the three Georgian sites (n=8), and in contrast to the bone collagen data, there is no significant difference between these groups, which indicates that the dietary differences probably originate from a protein intake rather than from the carbohydrate and lipid shares of the diet.

Fig. 4 – Modeling bone collagen and apatite carbon and nitrogen stable isotope ratios (Froehle, Kellner, Schoeninger 2012a) for Kiketi, Tiselis Seri and Chobareti (Messager et al. 2015).

Fig. 4 – Modeling bone collagen and apatite carbon and nitrogen stable isotope ratios (Froehle, Kellner, Schoeninger 2012a) for Kiketi, Tiselis Seri and Chobareti (Messager et al. 2015).

Tab. 7 – Results of U Mann‑Whitney for human δ13C (upper part) and δ15N (lower part) values for Georgian Kura-Araxes archaeological sites.

Sites Kiketi (n=7) Tiselis Seri (n=6) Chobareti (n=10) δ13C ANOVA – p‑value
Kiketi (n=7)   0.365 0.037* 0.294
Tiselis Seri (n=6) 0.101   0.005*  
Chobareti (n=10) 0.001* 0.001*    
δ15N ANOVA – p‑value 0.038      

* All p-values have been corrected using False Discovery Rate (FDR; Benjamin, Hochlerg 1995) because of multiples comparisons (©Rv3.1.1).

Fig. 5 – Human individual carbon and nitrogen isotope ratios for the sites of Kiketi, Tiselis Seri (tab. 3) and Chobareti (Messager et al. 2015).

Fig. 5 – Human individual carbon and nitrogen isotope ratios for the sites of Kiketi, Tiselis Seri (tab. 3) and Chobareti (Messager et al. 2015).

26The human-animal collagen average enrichment in heavy isotopes is between 0.2 and 0.7‰ for carbon and between 3.9 and 5.3‰ for nitrogen, which fits within the expected and theoretical ranges for diet-tissue spacing at the collagen level (Bocherens, Drucker 2003). These values are observed at each archaeological site and suggest a supply of food resources from the vicinity of archaeological settlements: consequently, this would point to the low mobility of KA populations. At the site of Kiketi, the human isotope results do not match the possible consumption of animal meat enriched in 13C. This suggests that these animals were not eaten preferentially or not consumed enough to be visible in human tissues. Nevertheless, these results do not enable us to conclude whether this pattern is related to (1) the low proportion of these particular animals in comparison to animals with a typical C3 signal or to (2) the fact these animals could have had a specific status and only have been used as a funerary deposit.

27Since the isotope baseline is similar for all three Georgian human populations, a slight differential consumption of animal proteins may have existed between these human populations. The diet of Kiketi and Tiselis Seri humans could be composed of a similar animal protein intake, which is lower than that of the Chobareti population. As regards the higher nitrogen values of bovids compared to those of caprids, we can infer a higher consumption of bovid meat for the Chobareti population than for the Tiselis Seri and then the Kiketi groups. The lack of isotope data for wild fauna, pig meat and freshwater fish in the southern Caucasus precludes a discussion on their contribution to the diet. The archaeozoological data show that KA populations did not have much interest in wild animals (Decaix et al. 2019a; Davoudi et al. 2018), and the comparison of eight KA sites has revealed the presence of pigs only on the site of Natsargora, raising the question of their status in the economy of KA societies (Decaix et al. 2019a). In such a context, a freshwater protein intake could be another reliable alternative to explain the highest nitrogen values of Chobareti, as already suggested by certain authors (Messager et al. 2015). Nevertheless, considering that the low dispersion of δ13Ccoll values for each human group (0.7‰, 1.0‰ and 1.1‰) is clearly lower than those observed for the fauna (1.6‰ and 7.7‰), we may say that the cereal has been higher than the animal protein intake.

Are there specific dietary practices during the Kura-Araxes period?

28Through the use of biological criteria obtained from skeletons (Poulmarc’h 2014; Messager et al. 2015), the inter-individual isotope variability was analyzed in order to identify the impact of age and sex on dietary habits. Apart from the one-year-old child from Chobareti who displays the highest nitrogen isotope values (13.9‰), in keeping with the consumption of maternal milk, the absence of subadults at Tiselis Seri and the difficulty in estimating the age at death of the Kiketi skulls unfortunately make it impossible to infer the specific consumption of food items between subadults and adults (fig. 5). If skull morphology is accepted as discriminating enough to identify the sex of individuals (Buikstra, Ubelaker 1994), exploratory isotope variability may be attempted using these criteria. No sex assessment was possible for the Kiketi individuals due to poor bone preservation and the storage of the collection based on the type of bones rather than on the individual skeleton. Whether we consider the sex criterion for each site or for all KA individuals, no dietary pattern emerges (fig. 5). Along the same lines, no different patterns are identified for skeletons in collective, as opposed to single, burials (fig. 5). Interestingly enough, the absence of normative funerary practices, as shown by the numerous types of burials, for instance in Shida Kartli and Kvemo Kartli (Poulmarc’h 2014), does not match the homogeneity of dietary practices. In conclusion, the results from the isotopic analyses suggest a broadly similar access to food items for each group and the absence of different normative food practices between females and males. On the other hand, if we assume that the individuals buried in collective graves were brought together in death for social or family reasons, does this mean that these social/family clusters did not go together with a specific diet? These results suggest that Kura-Araxes populations may be considered as an egalitarian society, where social and biological criteria did not impact food practices. In such a context, the nitrogen isotope differences recorded at Chobareti, which shows a higher consumption of animal proteins or freshwater resources, could result from environmental pressure. In order to discuss this hypothesis in depth, an analysis incorporating other KA individuals from other archaeological sites is required.


29Through the analysis of the carbon and nitrogen stable isotopes contained in the animal and human bones of the Georgian archaeological sites of Kiketi in Kvemo Kartli and Tiselis Seri, and Chobareti in Samtskhe-Javakheti, we tried to examine the way of life of Kura-Araxes societies by focusing on their diet and subsistence practices. The unexpected high δ13C values of four domestic animals from Kiketi highlight the possible specific status of domestic animals that have been used as funerary deposits; an alternative explanation for these values would posit that the animals came from external trade market supplies. A significant difference in δ15N values between bovids and caprids made it possible to explore their differential contribution to the human diet. The human bone collagen and apatite data point to a diet with a similar animal protein intake at Kiketi and Tiselis Seri, but to a lower animal protein intake for these two sites when compared with Chobareti. The difference in δ15N values could be related with a higher consumption of bovid meat, as well as freshwater resources, for Chobareti and Kiketi than for Tiselis Seri populations. For each group, the isotope enrichment between humans and fauna tends to support a supply of food resources in the vicinity of archaeological settlements, which could be interpreted to indicate the low mobility of KA populations. Interestingly, the exploration of inter-individual isotope variability between Georgian populations has demonstrated a similar access to the different food items, suggesting the absence of normative practices between females and males and between the different members of the same grave. Our results suggest an egalitarian society with no impact of social and biological criteria on food practices, which is in keeping with the archaeological data pointing to the horizontal structure of KA communities (Palumbi 2008, 2016). Nevertheless, the environmental impact on Kura-Araxes subsistence is still debated since this study only considers the populations who have lived above 1,200 m asl. The next step will be (1) to explore the isotope variability in Caucasian environments more precisely, based on a more extensive sample of animal bones in order to understand whether the apparent homogeneity of human practices is related to a low variability in protein resources or to a real similarity in dietary practices and (2) to analyze the KA populations who lived at lower altitudes, for example in the Kura or Araxes valleys.


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Table des illustrations

Titre Fig. 1 – Location of the Georgian Kura-Araxes sites under study (M. Poulmarc’h).
Fichier image/jpeg, 932k
Titre Fig. 2 – Animal carbon and nitrogen isotope ratios for bovids (Bos sp.), caprids (Ovis sp. and Capra sp.) and wild herbivores (Bison) from the sites of Kiketi (this study) and Chobareti (Messager et al. 2015).
Fichier image/jpeg, 190k
Titre Fig. 3 – Human and animal carbon and nitrogen isotope ratios for Kiketi and Tiselis Seri (this study), as well as Chobareti (median and percentiles, Messager et al. 2015).
Fichier image/jpeg, 286k
Titre Fig. 4 – Modeling bone collagen and apatite carbon and nitrogen stable isotope ratios (Froehle, Kellner, Schoeninger 2012a) for Kiketi, Tiselis Seri and Chobareti (Messager et al. 2015).
Fichier image/jpeg, 239k
Titre Fig. 5 – Human individual carbon and nitrogen isotope ratios for the sites of Kiketi, Tiselis Seri (tab. 3) and Chobareti (Messager et al. 2015).
Fichier image/jpeg, 321k


Université de Lyon, CNRS, Archéorient (UMR 5133), Lyon (France)

Tbilisi State University, Institute of History and Ethnology, Anthropological Research Laboratory, Tbilisi (Georgia)

Tbilisi State University, Faculty of Exact and Natural Sciences; Georgian National Museum, Tbilisi (Georgia)

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