The missing mushrooms: Searching for fungi in ancient human dietary analysis

Publication date: Available online 14 October 2016Source:Journal of Archaeological Science
Author(s): Hannah J. O’Regan, Angela L. Lamb, David M. Wilkinson
Fungi are a common part of modern human diets, but are rarely discussed in an archaeological context. Power et al. (2015) published data on bolete spores in human tooth calculus, suggesting that Upper Palaeolithic peoples ate mushrooms. Here we briefly consider the likelihood of mushroom consumption in the past, and examine whether or not stable isotopes may provide a way of seeing this in archaeological populations. We also consider the complexities of fungal stable isotopes using our own data and that from the literature. We conclude that fungi are highly variable isotopically, and are an additional dietary factor that should be considered when trying to interpret ‘terrestrial’ carbon isotope signatures combined with relatively high nitrogen isotope values in humans and other animals. Substantial mushroom ingestion could, in some cases, result in isotope values that may be interpreted as considerable meat consumption.