Climatic variability in the Late Copper Age: Stable isotope fluctuation of prehistoric Unio pictorum (Unionidae) shells from Lake Balaton (Hungary)

Gabriella Schöll-Barna, Attila Demény, Gábor Serlegi, Szilvia Fábián, Pál Sümegi, István Fórizs, Bernadett Bajnóczi

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Geochemical records of bivalve shells have been increasingly studied in the last decade to obtain information on climate conditions. In this paper we present stable isotope compositions of living and prehistoric shells of freshwater mussels (Unionidae) and their relationships with climate conditions in a shallow lake environment of Lake Balaton, West-Central Hungary. Physical conditions and stable oxygen isotope compositions of lake water samples were monitored where living bivalves were collected. Comparisons between seasonal variations in ambient temperature, water composition and within-shell isotopic variations indicate that the shells of Unio pictorum do reflect local changes at high resolution and thus can be used to study past conditions. Additionally, shells covering the last two decades were gathered at several locations along the lake in order to determine spatial and temporal variations in the shells' isotopic compositions as a function of weather conditions. As an application, prehistoric shells collected in archaeological excavations were analysed in order to study past environmental variations. Climate variations during the Late Copper Age (5460-4870 cal. yr BP) have been assumed on the basis of geomorphological and archaeozoological observations at the site Balatonkeresztúr-Réti-du{double acute}lo{double acute} (south of Lake Balaton), that suggested increasing humidity as a cause of changes in settlement location and domestic livestock husbandry. Stable carbon and oxygen isotope compositions of prehistoric bivalve shells were analyzed from excavations representing five archaeological subphases (Boleráz subphase, 5460-5310 cal. yr BP; two transitional subphases around 5310 cal. yr BP; Early Classic subphase, 5310-5060 cal. yr BP; Late Classic subphase, 5040-4870 cal. yr BP). The analyses revealed significant negative C and O isotope shifts in the transitional subphases relative to the earlier and later subphases. The isotopic variations indicate that the local climate became relatively wet and possibly cold around 5310 cal. yr BP, then it returned to drier (and likely warmer) conditions during the Classic subphases. This interpretation is in agreement with previous studies on climate changes related to the "5. 3 ky event" in the European continental area and the North Atlantic Region, indicating an Atlantic influence in the Carpathian Basin.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)87-100
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Paleolimnology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jan 1 2012



  • Bivalve shell
  • Lake Balaton
  • Late Copper Age
  • Stable isotope composition
  • Unio sp

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Aquatic Science
  • Earth-Surface Processes

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