Archaeologists at the University of Bradford will be leading an exploration into how prehistoric people made their living in Italy at the end of the Ice Age.

The research aims to find out how hunter-gatherers in Mediterranean Europe survived before farming became widespread and why the transition to agriculture was a smooth one.

Researchers will use high-precision dating to accurately age occupation layers in archaeological cave sites and identify which animals were being hunted by the prehistoric people by studying bones found at sites.

The team will also use isotope analyses to identify if the hunted animals migrated seasonally.

Lead researcher Dr Randolph Donahue said: “This project brings together cutting edge scientific analyses and traditional archaeological approaches for understanding in the past.

“It will assist us in explaining how and why people shifted smoothly towards adopting agriculture in Mediterranean Europe following its introduction from the Near East.”

The work will include a study of the production and use of stone tools discarded at the sites to understand how prehistoric people were using the caves.

The results of these combined methods will evaluate which of two theories best explains the food procurement strategies of hunter-gatherers in Mediterranean Europe during the end of the Ice Age.

The first theory suggests prehistoric people followed herds of animals year round in order to hunt them for food while the second theory suggests people moved around the landscape far less by relying far more heavily on small animals, fish and plants.

The project involves more than 20 researchers at ten universities and research centres in the UK, Italy and Germany and has been funded by a £334,000 grant by the Leverhulme Trust.

The study, led by the University of Bradford, will be in collaboration with the Royal Holloway of London, the Universities of London and Oxford, the British Geological Survey, the Max Planck Institute, and the universities of Rome, Florence, Siena and Pisa and the Pigorini Museum in Rome.