Breastfeeding and Weaning Practices in Ancient Populations: A Cross-Cultural View

Part of: Society for American Archaeology 82nd Annual Meeting, Vancouver, BC (2017)

Breastfeeding in humans is both a biological process and a culturally determined activity that is shaped by complex interactions of beliefs about health and nutrition, construction of childhood and parental identities, religious values, and lifestyles. Infant feeding practices have important implications for population dynamics, as they affect fertility, morbidity, and mortality patterns. Shortening the duration of breastfeeding has a significant effect on the cognitive and emotional development of children, however it has potential benefits for the survival of the group by shortening inter-birth intervals. Since the discovery that the nitrogen stable isotope ratio (15N/14N) in body tissues can be used to reconstruct breastfeeding and weaning practices (BWPs), there have been numerous studies aimed at developing more precise models to reconstruct BWPs in archaeological populations. These studies have improved our understanding of the social and biological determinants of ancient populations, such as health status, child development, social systems, and reproductive strategies. During this symposium, discussions will explore the new methodologies, models, and sustained uncertainties involved with BWPs reconstruction in Archaeology. The exchange of results regarding the BWPs of ancient populations in different world regions, will further enrich our knowledge of the temporal and cross-cultural variations of BWPs in ancient human groups.

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  • Documents (11)

  • A Bayesian model sensitivity study of non-static diet-collagen isotope fractionations factors used to assess breastfeeding and weaning practices among fisher-gatherers populations, western Cuba (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Bill Buhay. Yadira Chinique de Armas. Mirjana Roksandic. Roberto Rodriguez Suarez.

    Reconstructing paleo-diets from bone-collagen isotope values (carbon and nitrogen) requires proper knowledge of diet-collagen isotopic fractionations (∆d13Cdiet-col, ∆d15Ndiet-col). While these isotopic fractionations vary considerably among previous human paleo-diet reconstructions, some more recent studies have successfully employed "non-static" dietary offsets. New research suggests that non-static diet-collagen isotope fractionations is best when attempting to reconstruct paleo-diets of...

  • Breastfeeding, weaning and childhood diet in cave and megalithic populations of Late Neolithic north-central Spain (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Teresa Fernández-Crespo. Andrea Czermak. Rick J. Schulting. Julia A. Lee-Thorp.

    Stable carbon and nitrogen data of adult/adolescent human bone collagen from north-central Spanish Late Neolithic (ca. 3500-2900 cal. BC) provide evidence for the existence of significant isotopic differences among and between communities living in close proximity and burying their dead in caves and megalithic graves. This, together with previously identified distinct funerary selection patterns, suggests an unsuspected complex social or cultural differentiation. The purpose of this paper is to...

  • Children of the Atacama Desert: The complex interactions between breastfeeding, weaning and environmental stress in one of the world’s harshest environments. (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Charlotte King. Sian Halcrow. Andrew Millard. Anne Marie Sohler-Snoddy. Vivien Standen.

    Infant feeding practices and the weaning process have important implications for early life health and mortality patterns. In particular, the concept of weaning stress is often invoked as an explanation for increased infant or child mortality and morbidity. In this paper we evaluate the concept of weaning stress and the bioarchaeological methods used to interpret its presence. We highlight the intimate connection between stress and the weaning process in our own research in the northern Atacama...

  • Exploring sex-based variation in infant feeding practices in Byzantine Greece using stable isotope analysis of dentin serial sections (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Cynthia Kwok. Sandra Garvie-Lok. M. Anne Katzenberg.

    This paper explores whether sex-based differences in infant feeding practices existed at the early Byzantine Greek site of Nemea (5th-6th c.). Dentin serial sections were obtained from the permanent first molar and first premolar from 31 adults (11 males, 8 females, 12 unidentified) and analyzed for stable carbon and nitrogen isotopes. The isotopic data demonstrated that most individuals were breastfed and fully weaned at a mean age of 2.6 with a range of 1.8 to 3.6 years. Sex-based differences...

  • Investigating Breastfeeding/Weaning Practices and Adult Mobility Patterns during the Western Zhou Dynasty (1122 – 771 BC) at Boyangcheng, Anhui Province, China (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Benjamin Fuller. Yang Xia. Jinglei Zhang. Tingting Wang. YaoWu Hu.

    In a first for Chinese archaeology, breastfeeding/weaning practices were investigated at the Western Zhou Dynasty (1122 – 771 BC) site of Boyangcheng, Anhui Province. Ribs and long bones were analyzed to examine short and long term dietary changes in each individual. The adult δ13C and δ15N results indicate that mixed C3 (possibly rice) and C4 (millet) terrestrial diets with varying levels of animal protein were consumed. The elevated subadult δ13C and δ15N results reflect that solid foods were...

  • Nitrogen Stable Isotopes and Infant Feeding Practices: Taking a Long View (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Mark Schurr.

    Over the past 20 years, nitrogen stable isotope ratios have been used to explore infant feeding practices in ancient populations. In spite of many productive studies, uncertainties remain about how to interpret juvenile isotope ratios in regard to comparing feeding behavior across different populations, and the relationships of infant feeding practices to health, subsistence modes, environment, and social organization. Infant feeding practices are likely to be constrained by the biological...

  • Patterns of weaning and childhood diets among ancestral Huron-Wendat communities, determined from stable isotopes of teeth (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Susan Pfeiffer. Judith Sealy. Ronald F. Williamson. Crystal Forrest. Louis Lesage.

    We report here on the study of ancestral teeth retained after repatriation, with the permission and engagement of the Huron-Wendat Nation. We have documented temporal patterns in reliance on maize, as well as decisions about infant feeding. Significant differences between time periods before and after European incursions suggest concrete ways in which disruptions altered daily lives. Study of horizontal dentine slices from 74 teeth (35 deciduous molars, 39 permanent M1) from five communities,...

  • Reconsidering Stable Isotope Analysis of Bone Collagen for the Interpretation of Prehistoric Breastfeeding and Weaning Practices: A Case Study from Santa Clara Valley, California (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Karen Gardner. Eric J. Bartelink. Antoinette Martinez. Alan Leventhal. Rosemary Cambra.

    Breastfeeding and weaning practices (BWPs) are deeply personal, influenced by individual choices, circumstances of health and opportunity, community support, and cultural norms. This presentation will discuss the advantages and challenges of using bone collagen composition to interpret breastfeeding and weaning practices, using data from the Yukisma Mound (CA-SCL-38), a Late Period (~740-230 BP) ancestral Ohlone mortuary site in Santa Clara County, California. Stable carbon and nitrogen isotope...

  • Reconstructing ancient Maya nursing behavior and children's diets at Tikal, Guatemala (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Lori Wright. Ethan Grossman.

    We examine the ancient Maya nursing practices and children’s diets at the archaeological metropolis of Tikal, Guatemala, through stable isotopic analysis of permanent teeth in adult skeletons. Stable carbon isotope analysis of tooth enamel permits a measure of the relative amount of carbon from maize foods in the diet, and helps track the introduction of solid foods into the children’s diet. Stable oxygen isotopes in tooth enamel reflect the sources of water that children consumed, and shed...

  • Social and Cultural Influences on Weaning Practices (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only David Smith.

    Much of the research done on weaning practices among ancient societies is directed toward biological aspects of the weaning process. Some researchers have, for example, attempted to identify a ‘natural’ weaning age determined by human primate origins. Surveys of weaning age among modern and ethnohistoric populations, however, demonstrate that weaning age is highly variable across diverse economies and categories of social organization. This pattern (or lack of pattern) suggests that a range of...

  • Sources of Variations in Breastfeeding and Weaning Practices among Caribbean Populations (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Yadira Chinique De Armas. William Pestle.

    Breastfeeding in humans is a biocultural process shaped by complex interactions of beliefs about health and nutrition, construction of childhood and parental identities, religious values, and lifestyle. While some studies have stated that the type of subsistence does not determine weaning ages in a population, these factors could have affected weaning food choices. This paper analyzes carbon and nitrogen stable isotopes in bone collagen of four pre-colonial Caribbean populations: Paso del Indio...