Identifying Consumption of Putrefied Meat in the Archaeological Record from δ15N Values

Author(s): Melanie Beasley; Julie Lesnik; Angela Perri

Year: 2019


This is an abstract from the "SAA 2019: General Sessions" session, at the 84th annual meeting of the Society for American Archaeology.

Speth (2017) proposed that the consumption of putrid meat and fish might be a dietary item that is underexplored in the Upper Paleolithic food menu. In this presentation we explore ways to identify the consumption of putrid foods. We compare the results from our study of Δ15N observed in mammal muscle tissue decomposing during winter with published stable isotope data of prehistoric arctic and subarctic groups. Our modern muscle tissue study indicates that during the first 40 days when daily temperatures average 9.3 °C, no significant difference is observed from the starting δ15N value (mean Δ15N = 0.1‰). However, from days 41-76, there is a significant increase in Δ15N with an average increase of 1.7‰ despite no significant change in the daily temperature average or max daily temperature, 10.0 and 25.6 °C, respectively. Ethnohistoric accounts indicate that putrefied meat and maggots were consumed as a delicacy by arctic and subarctic groups. While muscle tissue does not seem to contribute significantly to elevated δ15N values, maggots associated with decomposing meat do have significantly higher Δ15N values, up to a 4.6‰ increase within 136 days of decomposition. Consumption of putrid meat and associated maggots should be considered when constructing prehistoric food menus.

Cite this Record

Identifying Consumption of Putrefied Meat in the Archaeological Record from δ15N Values. Melanie Beasley, Julie Lesnik, Angela Perri. Presented at The 84th Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, Albuquerque, NM. 2019 ( tDAR id: 449511)

This Resource is Part of the Following Collections

Spatial Coverage

min long: -169.453; min lat: 50.513 ; max long: -49.043; max lat: 72.712 ;

Record Identifiers

Abstract Id(s): 24637