Nitrogen Stable Isotopes and Infant Feeding Practices: Taking a Long View

Author(s): Mark Schurr

Year: 2017


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 demands of infants and mothers, but may vary within those constraints based on factors such as degree of sedentism, population size, fertility, class and ethnic variations, and the presence or absence of foods that can be substituted for breastmilk. Juvenile and adult stable nitrogen isotope ratios from six sites in the midcontinental USA, which span almost 5,000 years, provide an opportunity to examine the relationships between infant feeding practices as reflected in nitrogen stable isotope ratios across many dimensions. Subsistence practices ranged from hunting and gathering, through agriculture without domesticated animals, to early industrial agriculture. The inter-site comparisons provide an opportunity to assess the range of infant feeding practices that are possible in a single environmental zone and how they systematically varied with biological constraints and cultural practices within and between populations.

Cite this Record

Nitrogen Stable Isotopes and Infant Feeding Practices: Taking a Long View. Mark Schurr. Presented at The 81st Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, Vancouver, British Columbia. 2017 ( tDAR id: 431820)


Geographic Keywords
North America - Midwest

Spatial Coverage

min long: -104.634; min lat: 36.739 ; max long: -80.64; max lat: 49.153 ;

Record Identifiers

Abstract Id(s): 16312