Reassessing the diet of Upper Palaeolithic humans from Gough's Cave and Sun Hole, Cheddar Gorge, Somerset, UK


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January 2010


Richards et al. (2000) reconstructed the diet of the human remains found in Gough's and Sun Hole Cave through isotope analysis. They concluded that these people consumed an entirely terrestrial-based diet. Their reconstruction was based upon comparison of the results from human bones with those from a very small number of associated animals. The diets of the Gough's and Sun Hole Cave human were different from the other six Upper Palaeolithic humans from the British Isles for which dietary information has been obtained through isotope analysis. The work of Richards et al. (2000) suggests that they were the only ones for whom marine or freshwater resources did not play a significant role in their diets. We test this through further analyses of faunal remains from Gough's Cave, Sun Hole and other contemporary sites (Kent's Cavern, Aveline's Hole, Kendrick's Cave). Despite the limited faunal sample, the original palaeodietary reconstruction is broadly consistent with our findings. The isotope values of the main protein sources consumed by the humans from both sites are consistent with those of red deer and bovines, and, for a single individual, with that of horse and red deer. Reindeer was postulated in the original reconstruction as a potential food source, but this seems very unlikely based on our isotope reconstruction and the archaeological remains.


Bone, Collagen, Carbon, Nitrogen, Magdalenian, Paleolithic, Lateglacial

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Journal of Archaeological Science, Vol. 37, no. 1 (2010-01-01).