The Tutu Archaeological Village Site: A Case Study in Human Adaptation

By Elizabeth Righter | Go to book overview
Chapter Ten
Bone isotopic analysis and prehistoric diet at the Tutu site
Lynette Norr
INTRODUCTION
This chapter presents the background, methods, results, and paleodietary interpretations of bone stable isotope analyses performed on human and faunal remains from the Tutu site. As part of a larger multidisciplinary project addressing a broad array of questions related to culture history, society, ecology, and individual health, this study contributes information regarding human subsistence patterns and the exploitation and/or production of certain classes of food resources. Bone samples from 24 pre-Columbian burials were processed for analysis of the stable nitrogen and stable carbon isotopic composition of bone collagen and bone apatite carbonate. The human samples are from two temporal periods. At 2-sigma, burials 3, 4/7, 10, 13, 13A, and 16 date prior to AD 1000, and Burials 1, 2, 5, 6, 8A, 8B, 9, 12, 19, 20, 22B, 26, 29, 30, 31, 33, and 38 date to after AD 1150. The cultural entities represented by the prehistoric burials are Saladoid and Ostionoid in Caribbean prehistory. The sampled individuals also represent males and females, as well as children and adults. The stable isotopes of carbon and nitrogen in archaeological human remains can be used to provide information about prehistoric subsistence. This is because specific categories of food resources differ naturally and predictably in their isotopic composition, and that composition is recorded in the consumer's body tissues. The consumption of plants with different photosynthetic pathways, specifically maize and other tropical grasses vs most other plants, and the consumption of marine vs terrestrial protein, can be identified in most populations. Potential research questions that can be addressed through this type of analysis include, among others:
1 the identification of maize agriculture as part of the subsistence base (Buikstra & Milner, 1991; Lynott, Bouton, Price & Nelson, 1986; Norr, 1990; van der Merwe & Vogel, 1978; Vogel & van der Merwe, 1977; White & Schwarcz, 1986);
2 the importance of coastal resources in the diet (see e.g. Chisholm, Nelson & Schwarcz, 1982; Johansen, Gulliksen & Nydal, 1986; Norr, 1990; Sealy, 1986, 1989; Sealy & van der Merwe, 1985; Tauber, 1981; Walker & DeNiro, 1986);
3 changes in subsistence patterns over time (Hutchinson & Norr 1994; Larsen, Schoeninger, van der Merwe, Moore & Lee-Thorp, 1992; Norr, 1990, 1995, 1996; Schwarcz, Melbye, Katzenberg & Knyf, 1985; van der Merwe, Roosevelt &Vogel, 1981);
4 regional diversity in subsistence (Ambrose & DeNiro, 1986b);

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