Why Did Ancient Britons Stop Eating Fish?

<< Back to Page 1   Page 2 of 2

Specifically, the team looked at the ratios of stable carbon isotopes. Marine foods and land-based foods have distinct stable carbon isotope signatures, said Richards.

"We determined that after the introduction of domesticates, as well as the other artifacts associated with the Neolithic, the isotope values showed that marine foods were not used anymore," he said. "We then infer that this is a switch from wild foods such as fish and shellfish to the new domesticates that arrive at this time."

While the bone analysis alone does not directly say the shift was from seafood to domesticates, it coincides with their arrival. Richards and colleagues say this suggests that the arrival of the new farming lifestyle must have been very attractive, even to coastal dwellers who had a well-established marine economy in the Mesolithic.

Changing Diet

Richards said there are three plausible reasons why the British abandoned seafood from the beginning of the Neolithic: the domesticated plants and animals presented a steady source of food; the shift was forced by a climate change; or cultural pressure.

Of those, Richards said a climate change is the least likely since there were several climate changes during the Mesolithic yet marine foods continued to be used.

"The previous hunting-fishing-gathering way of life was extremely successful for humans—it is the main way we have obtained food for most of our existence—so it seems strange that we would give this up so readily to start farming and stock-keeping within a generation or two," said Richards.

According to Copley, this research highlights how advantageous the Neolithic diet of farm animals, dairy products, and cereals must have been. For example, he said, it allowed populations to boom and larger, more complex societies to emerge.

"Of course, it poses more questions," he said. "For example, are marine foods still consumed during the Neolithic but in much lower abundances? And why is there this very quick shift in diets?"

The carbon isotope signatures are not sensitive enough to rule out the possibility that the British had an occasional fish fillet at dinner, but it clearly shows a shift from a high-level of marine food consumption in the Mesolithic, said Richards.

Fish once again became an important force in the British diet when the Romans invaded Great Britain during the first century A.D., but even then it was likely seldom eaten and only then by the upper classes.

"In the medieval and later periods we see much more use of fish, but in Britain we never see the levels of fish consumption seen in the Mesolithic period," said Richards.

Fish and chips, the world-famous British dish, became popular in the 19th century. The battering and deep frying of the fish killed off bacteria and kept it warm for long periods of time to feed mill workers, said Richards.

More Information About Human Origins

News Stories
Home Page for Recent National Geographic News Stories About the Origins of Humans>>
Why Did Ancient Britons Stop Eating Fish?
Who Were The First Americans?
Baja California Rock Art Dated to 7,500 Years Ago
Are Humans Furless to Thwart Parasites?
Oldest Homo Sapiens Fossils Found, Experts Say
Neandertals Not Our Ancestors, DNA Study Suggests
Cannibalism Normal for Early Humans?
Neandertals Had Highly Capable Hands, Study Says
Did Neandertals Lack Smarts to Survive?
Java Skull Raises Questions on Human Family Tree
First Humans in Australia Dated to 50,000 Years Ago
1.8 Million-Year-Old Hominid Jaw Found
When Did "Modern" Behavior Emerge in Humans?
Documentary Redraws Human's Family Tree
Fossil Implies Our Early Kin Lived in Trees, Study Says
Controversy Over Famed Ancient Skull: Ape or Human?
Skull Fossil Opens Window Into Early Period of Human Origins
Skull Fossil Challenges Out-of-Africa Theory
New Study Supports Idea That Primates, Dinosaurs Coexisted
Human Fossil Adds Fuel to Evolution Debate
Did Our Species Mate With Other Human Species?
Did Humans and Neandertals Battle for Control of the Middle East?
Killer Cats Hunted Human Ancestors
Adolescence Came Late in Human Evolution, Study Shows
Viewpoint: Is It Time to Revise the System of Scientific Naming?
African Bone Tools Dispute Key Idea About Human Evolution
Africa's Imperiled Rock Art Documented Before it Disappears
Bones, Tools Push Back Human Settlement in Arctic Region
Oldest Asian Tools Show Early Human Tolerance of Variable Climate
Telltale Face Betrays Neandertals as Non-Human
Fossils From Ethiopia May Be Earliest Human Ancestor
New Face Added to Humankind's Family Tree
Discoveries Breathe New Life into Human Origins Debate

Additional National Geographic Resources
Interactive Feature: Outpost: In Search of Human Origins
National Geographic magazine online: Who Were the First Americans?

<< Back to Page 1   Page 2 of 2




NEWS FEEDS     After installing a news reader, click on this icon to download National Geographic News's XML/RSS feed.   After installing a news reader, click on this icon to download National Geographic News's XML/RSS feed.

Get our news delivered directly to your desktop—free.
How to Use XML or RSS

National Geographic Daily News To-Go

Listen to your favorite National Geographic news daily, anytime, anywhere from your mobile phone. No wires or syncing. Download Stitcher free today.
Click here to get 12 months of National Geographic Magazine for $15.