Dietary Biographies: Chronicling past husbandry, mobility, and exchange practices through isotopic analysis of plant and animal tissues

Part of: Society for American Archaeology 80th Annual Meeting, San Francisco, CA (2015)

The tissues of animal and plant remains recovered from modern and archaeological contexts provide a deep record of detailed dietary and environmental information that can be unlocked with stable isotope analysis. This session brings together advances in our understanding of the properties of mineralized, proteinaceous, and carbonized tissues and the distribution of carbon, nitrogen, oxygen and strontium isotopes in natural biomes to reconstruct individual dietary and mobility histories of animals and humans. The ways in which humans intentionally manipulate their plant and animal resources through management and exchange, and establishing the isotopic outcomes of these activities, is integral to documenting social and economic dynamics in ancient societies.

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  • Documents (9)

  • Bronze Age Mobility in Montane Ecosystems of eastern Kazakhstan: a preliminary isotopic investigation (2015)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Taylor Hermes.

    The nature of mobility carries significant implications for social interaction in pastoral societies. This paper presents a preliminary analysis of radiogenic strontium and stable oxygen isotopes of domesticated fauna remains excavated from Bronze Age sites across the mountains of eastern Kazakhstan. Results are contextualized with the ecological and geographic backdrops surrounding the sites and placed into a diachronic perspective of pastoral interaction and herding strategy. This research...

  • Geographical origin assignment of sheep wool textiles using light stable isotopes (2015)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Isabella Von Holstein.

    Identifying which of a group of material cultural objects is non-local has long been part of artefact analysis in archaeology. Identifying the movement of objects, and the movement of ideas about how to make and use objects, is important to understanding physical and ideological links between sites. This work has relied on data from typological, technological and chemical analyses of object construction and use. Textiles made from sheep wool were a highly valuable commodity which was traded...

  • Grazing Herds on a modern Jordanian Landscape: δ13C and δ15N analysis of plants and caprine hair keratin along an altitudinal cline (2015)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Kaitlyn Laws. Cheryl Makarewicz. Isabella von Holstein.

    The topography of Jordan is uniquely characterized by dramatic shifts in altitude from -300 b.s.l. to +1300 a.s.l. over extremely short distances, which results in sharp differences in precipitation levels and the composition of vegetation communities along altitudinal gradients. Graze species favored by sheep and goats collected along an altitudinal gradient indicate predictable shifts in floral δ13C values, influenced by altitudinal differences in water availability, while nitrogen isotope...

  • Herding Strategies during the Xiongnu Period of Mongolia: A comparison in the diet of domestic fauna from the Egiin Gol Valley and Baga Gazaryn Chuluu (2015)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Asa Cameron.

    During the Xiongnu Period (300 BC-AD 100), mobile agro-pastoralism constituted the primary form of subsistence. While this is supported by domesticated animal remains uncovered in mortuary and domestic contexts and historical and micro-botanical evidence for the use of agricultural products, a dearth of research exists concerning the variation of mobile agro-pastoralism among the Xiongnu. As such, this paper centers on regional differences in herding patterns and specifically does so through the...

  • Modeling Bronze Age Isoscapes in the Eurasian steppe: Identifying subtle variation in pastoral diet and mobility (2015)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Alicia Ventresca Miller.

    Isotopic investigations of ancient materials often lack the robust isotopic baselines necessary for comparative analyses. A paucity of isotopic data for baseline ecology creates gaps in our knowledge and allows for multiple interpretations of prehistoric practices. This is especially true for the Eurasian steppe, where isotopic values have been used to consider long-distance human migrations without sufficient baselines. Therefore, the aim of this paper is to use an innovative approach in...

  • (Re)Articulating Ancient Lives: Diet and Movement in Late Bronze Age Societies in the South Caucasus (2015)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Maureen Marshall.

    The sudden appearance of hilltop citadels and vast cemeteries on the Late Bronze Age landscape of the South Caucasus suggests that it was a period of dynamic socio-political transformation as society shifted from highly mobile agropastoralism to a more settled lifestyle revolving around fortresses. Yet, within the Tsaghkahovit Plain, Armenia, there is little archaeological evidence of domestic architecture and activities, throwing into question people’s residential and subsistence practices....

  • Ritual and Mobility: δ18O and δ13C analyses of Bronze Age khirigsuur horses from Khanuuy Valley, Mongolia (2015)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Heather Byerly. Jean-Luc Houle. Cheryl Makarewicz.

    Khirigsuurs are large stone burial and ritual monuments that served as stages for group activities and social negotiation during the Late Bronze Age (c.1300-700 BC) in Mongolia. Animal remains were routinely interred in satellite mounds associated with primary burial features, in particular the heads and extremities of horses, and often in great numbers. The question remains, however, whether horses selected for interment in khirigsuur satellites were from local or distant herds. Here, we...

  • Scales of Mobility: Oxygen (δ18O) and carbon (δ13C) isotopic insights into Xiongnu herding practice (2015)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Cheryl Makarewicz. Sarah Lublasser.

    Herding strategies involving the regular movement of domesticates to new pastures is a critical feature of pastoralist subsistence strategies. However, the utility of strontium isotope analysis as a proxy for mobility becomes complicated in regions where geological substrates are either homogenous over a wide area or are heterogeneous over small distances. Taking advantage of the geographic sensitivity of carbon and oxygen isotopes to precipitation levels, altitude, and latitude, we explore...

  • Stable Isotopic Insights into Changing Diets, Population Mobility and the Origins of Pastoral Nomadism in Early Bronze Age Mongolia (2015)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Damien Huffer. Christine France. Bruno Frohlich. Michelle Machicek.

    This paper presents human and faunal bone, dentine and enamel stable isotopic data from a small (n=30) Bronze Age skeletal assemblage excavated from a large burial mound (khirigsuur) complex (n=2000) located in northwest Mongolia (c. 3,500-2,700 BP). Covering 900 sq. km and spanning 600 years, osteological and mortuary data suggest no strict correlations occurred between individual age and sex estimates, and the size or form of burial mound, suggesting instead that khirigsuur variation signifies...