Re-evaluating Scythian lifeways: Isotopic analysis of diet and mobility in Iron Age Ukraine

Alicia R. Ventresca Miller, James Johnson, Sergey Makhortykh, Claudia Gerling, Ludmilla Litvinova, Svetlana Andrukh, Gennady Toschev, Jana Zech, Petrus le Roux, Cheryl Makarewicz, Nicole Boivin, Patrick Roberts

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The Scythians are frequently presented, in popular and academic thought alike, as highly mobile warrior nomads who posed a great economic risk to growing Mediterranean empires from the Iron Age into the Classical period. Archaeological studies provide evidence of first millennium BCE urbanism in the steppe while historical texts reference steppe agriculture, challenging traditional characterizations of Scythians as nomads. However, there have been few direct studies of the diet and mobility of populations living in the Pontic steppe and forest-steppe during the Scythian era. Here, we analyse strontium, oxygen, and carbon isotope data from human tooth enamel samples, as well as nitrogen and carbon isotope data of bone collagen, at several Iron Age sites across Ukraine commonly associated with Scythian era communities. Our multi-isotopic approach demonstrates generally low levels of human mobility in the vicinity of urban locales, where populations engaged in agro-pastoralism focused primarily on millet agriculture. Some individuals show evidence for long-distance mobility, likely associated with significant inter-regional connections. We argue that this pattern supports economic diversity of urban locales and complex trading networks, rather than a homogeneous nomadic population.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0245996
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2021
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 Public Library of Science. All rights reserved.

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


Dive into the research topics of 'Re-evaluating Scythian lifeways: Isotopic analysis of diet and mobility in Iron Age Ukraine'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this