Tooth oxygen isotopes reveal Late Bronze Age origin of Mediterranean fish aquaculture and trade

Sisma Ventura Guy, Tütken Thomas, Zohar Irit, Pack Andreas, Sivan Dorit, Lernau Omri, Gilboa Ayelet, Bar Oz Guy

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Past fish provenance, exploitation and trade patterns were studied by analyzing phosphate oxygen isotope compositions (δ18OPO4) of gilthead seabream (Sparus aurata) tooth enameloid from archaeological sites across the southern Levant, spanning the entire Holocene. We report the earliest evidence for extensive fish exploitation from the hypersaline Bardawil lagoon on Egypt’s northern Sinai coast, as indicated by distinctively high δ18OPO4 values, which became abundant in the southern Levant, both along the coast and further inland, at least from the Late Bronze Age (3,550–3,200 BP). A period of global, postglacial sea-level stabilization triggered the formation of the Bardawil lagoon, which was intensively exploited and supported a widespread fish trade. This represents the earliest roots of marine proto-aquaculture in Late Holocene coastal domains of the Mediterranean. We demonstrate the potential of large-scale δ18OPO4 analysis of fish teeth to reveal cultural phenomena in antiquity, providing unprecedented insights into past trade patterns.

Original languageEnglish
Article number14086
JournalScientific Reports
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1 Dec 2018

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This study was financially supported by the German Research Council (AP: grant PA 909/15-1), the Georg-August-University of Göttingen, and by the European Research Council under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation program (grant agreements # 648427 (to GBO) and # 681450 (to TT)) and the Israel Science Foundation (grant # 340-14). We thank Michael Maus (Applied and Analytical Palaeontology Group, Johannes Gutenberg University of Mainz), Bernd Steinhilber (Geochemistry Group, University of Tübingen) and Torsten Vennemann (University of Lausanne) for their assistance with δ18OPO4 analyses. We thank the following archaeologists for allowing us to study the fish from their excavations: Eliot Braun, Tali Erickson-Gini, Yossi Garfinkel, Sy Gitin, Amir Golany, Thomas E. Levy, Daniel Master, Amihai Mazar, Ronny Reich, Avraham Ronen, Ilan Sharon, Rafi Stieglitz, Nahshon Szanton, Yotam Tepper, David Ussishkin, Joe Uziel. IZ thanks the Irene Levi Sala CARE archaeological foundation for supporting the establishment of her fish reference collection.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2018, The Author(s).

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