Asian Perspectives: Journal of Archaeology for Asia & the Pacific: Reconstructing Human Subsistence in the West Mouth (Niah Cave, Sarawak) Burial Series Using Stable Isotopes of Carbon

Article excerpt

2005, Reconstructing Human Subsistence in the West Mouth (Niah Cave, Sarawak) Burial Series Using Stable Isotopes of Carbon. Asian Perspectives: Journal of Archaeology for Asia & the Pacific, Vol. 44, Issue 1, 73-89.

The human burial series from the West Mouth of Niah Cave (Sarawak, Malaysia) offers a unique opportunity to explore prehistoric subsistence patterns in lowland tropical rainforest. Over 200 primary and secondary burials, classified as pre-Neolithic and Neolithic, have been recovered since preliminary excavations began there a half-century ago. Stable isotope ratios of carbon derived from human tooth enamel provide the quantitative measure of individual food consumption during the time of enamel formation. Such data provide a robust and independent assessment of total diet that complements other subsistence information recovered from the archaeological record. West Mouth human tooth enamel examined shows a broad range of [delta] 13 C values, consistent with a C3-based subsistence regime as would be expected in rainforest habitats dominated by C3 vegetation. Pre-Neolithic individuals have more negative [delta] 13 C values on average than Neolithic individuals sampled. …