Paleobiological Implications of the Isotopic Signatures (13C,15N) of Fossil Mammal Collagen in Scladina Cave (Sclayn, Belgium)

Hervé Bocherens
Daniel Billiou
Marylène Patou-Mathis
Dominique Bonjean
Marcel Otte
André Mariotti


An isotopic investigation of upper Pleistocene mammal bones and teeth from Scladina cave (Sclayn, Belgium) demonstrated the very good quality of collagen preservation. A preliminary screening of the samples used the amount of nitrogen in whole bone and dentine in order to estimate the preserved amount of collagen before starting the extraction process. The isotopic abundances of fossil specimens from still-extant species are consistent with their trophic position. Moreover, the15N isotopic abundance is higher in dentine than in bone in bears and hyenas, a phenomenon already observed in modern specimens. These results demonstrate that the isotopic compositions of samples from Scladina cave can be interpreted in ecological terms. Mammoths exhibit a high15N isotopic abundance relative to other herbivores, as was the case in Siberian and Alaskan samples. These results suggest distinctive dietary adaptations in herbivores living in the mammoth steppe. Cave bears are clearly isotopically different from coeval brown bears, suggesting an ecological separation between species, with a pure vegetarian diet for cave bear and an omnivorous diet for brown bear.