Preprints
https://doi.org/10.5194/bg-2021-186
https://doi.org/10.5194/bg-2021-186

  22 Jul 2021

22 Jul 2021

Review status: this preprint is currently under review for the journal BG.

Human and livestock faecal biomarkers at the prehistorical encampment site of Ullafelsen in the Fotsch Valley, Stubai Alps, Austria – potential and limitations

Marcel Lerch1,2, Tobias Bromm2, Clemens Geitner3, Jean Nicolas Haas4, Dieter Schäfer5, Bruno Glaser2, and Michael Zech1,2 Marcel Lerch et al.
  • 1Heisenberg Chair of Physical Geography with focus on paleoenvironmental research, Department of Geosciences, Technische Universität Dresden, Helmholtzstraße 10, 01096 Dresden, Germany
  • 2Soil Biogeochemistry Group, Institute of Agricultural and Nutritional Sciences, Martin-Luther University Halle-Wittenberg, Von-Seckendorff-Platz 3, D-06120, Halle (Saale), Germany
  • 3Institute of Geography, University of Innsbruck, Innrain 52f, A-6020 Innsbruck, Austria
  • 4Institute of Botany, University of Innsbruck, Sternwartestraße 15, A-6020 Innsbruck, Austria
  • 5Institute of Geology, University of Innsbruck, Innrain 52f, A-6020 Innsbruck, Austria

Abstract. The Ullafelsen at 1869 m a.s.l. in the Tyrolean Stubai Alps next to Innsbruck is an important (geo-)archaeological reference site for the Mesolithic period. Buried fireplaces on the Ullafelsen plateau were dated at 10.9–9.5 cal. kyrs BP and demonstrate together with thousands of flint stone artifacts the presence of hunter-gatherers during the Early Holocene. Most recently, we demonstrated the great potential of n-alkane and black carbon biomarkers for contributing to a better understanding of pedogenesis and landscape evolution. In order to study the importance of human and/or animals for occupation of this relevant geoarchaeological site, we carried out steroid and bile acid analyses on two modern faeces samples from cattle and sheep and on 37 soil samples from seven soil profiles at the Ullafelsen. The modern animal faeces show a dominance of 5β-stigmastanol and deoxycholic acid for ruminants (cattle and sheep), which is in agreement with literature data. The OAh horizons, which have accumulated and developed since the Mesolithic, revealed high contents of steroids and bile acids; the E (LL) horizon coinciding with the Mesolithic living floor is characterized by medium contents of steroids and bile acids. By contrast, the subsoil horizons Bh, Bs and BvCv contain low contents of faecal biomarkers indicating that leaching of steroids and bile acids into the podsolic subsoils is not an important factor. Deoxycholic acid is the most abundant bile acid in all soil samples and gives evidence for strong faeces input of ruminants. The steroid and bile acid patterns and ratios indicate a negligible input of human faeces on the Ullafelsen. β-Sitosterol as plant-derived steroid has also a strong influence on the faecal biomarker pattern in our soils. Root input into the subsoils is likely reflected by β-sitosterol contents. In conclusion, our results reflect a strong faecal input by livestock, rather than by humans as found for other Anthrosols such as Amazonian Dark Earths. Further studies need to focus on the question of the exact timing of faeces deposition.

Marcel Lerch et al.

Status: final response (author comments only)

Comment types: AC – author | RC – referee | CC – community | EC – editor | CEC – chief editor | : Report abuse
  • RC1: 'Comment on bg-2021-186', Anonymous Referee #1, 19 Aug 2021
  • RC2: 'Comment on bg-2021-186', Eva Lehndorff, 24 Aug 2021

Marcel Lerch et al.

Marcel Lerch et al.

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Short summary
Faecal biomarker analyses present a useful tool in geoarchaeological research. For a better understanding of the living of our ancestors in alpine regions, we investigated modern livestock faeces and Holocene soils on the prehistorical encampment site of Ullafelsen in the Fotsch Valley, Stubai Alps, Austria. First results show a high input of livestock faeces, while the input of human faeces are negligible for this archaeological site. Future studies focus on mire archives in the Fotsch Valley.
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