Mobility and diet in the Iron Age Pontic forest-steppe: A multi-isotopic study of urban populations at Bel'sk

A. R. Ventresca Miller, J. A. Johnson, S. Makhortykh, L. Litvinova, T. Taylor, R. Rolle, C. A. Makarewicz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


High mobility among Scythian populations is often cited as the driving force behind pan-regional interactions and the spread of new material culture c.700–200 bce, when burgeoning socioeconomic interactions between the Greeks, Scythian steppe pastoralists and the agro-pastoral tribes of the forest-steppe played out across the region. While interregional mobility central to warrior lifestyles is assumed to have been a defining feature of Scythian populations, strikingly few studies have investigated human mobility among communities located along the steppe and forest-steppe boundary zone. Here, we document movement and dietary intake of individuals interred at Bel'sk, a large urban settlement in Ukraine, through strontium, oxygen and carbon isotope analyses of human tooth enamel. The results provide direct evidence for limited mobility among populations from Bel'sk, demonstrating the movement into, and out of, urban complexes. Strontium and oxygen isotope analyses reveal that groups at Bel'sk remained local to the urban complex. Dietary intake, reflected in carbon isotopes, was based on domesticated crops and livestock herding. The combination of low mobility alongside dietary evidence suggests local groups engaged in sedentary agro-pastoral subsistence strategies that contrast sharply with the picture of highly mobile Scythian herders dependent on livestock portrayed in historical sources.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1399-1416
Number of pages18
Issue number6
StatePublished - 1 Dec 2019
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019 University of Oxford


  • agriculture
  • Iron Age
  • migration
  • mobility
  • Scythian
  • stable isotope
  • urban

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • History
  • Archaeology


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