The 82nd Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (2013)


Further studies on dental calculus as a proxy for stable carbon and nitrogen isotopes: extraordinarily high levels of δ15N in prehistoric samples from Chile correspond to findings on traditional biomaterials

G. RICHARD SCOTT1, SIMON R. POULSON2, SUSAN C. KUZMINSKY3, VIVIEN STANDEN4, BERNARDO ARRIAZA5 and IVAN MUNOZ6.

1Anthropology, University of Nevada Reno, 2Geological Sciences and Engineering, 3Anthropology, University of California Santa Barbara, 4Antropologia, Universidad de Tarapaca, Arica, Chile, 5Antropología, Instituto de Alta Investigación, 6Antropologia

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A recent study of a Basque sample from northern Spain demonstrated that dental calculus might serve as a new proxy for estimating stable carbon and nitrogen isotope ratios. The next step is to analyze calculus from samples at the other end of the dietary spectrum compared to Europeans. Toward this end, calculus was collected from 35 prehistoric human skeletons from northern Chile for stable carbon and nitrogen isotope analysis. Samples were selected from seven prehistoric collections associated with coastal and valley sites dating from the Archaic period (~4000 BC) to European contact (AD 1476). Results produced δ15N compositions between +17.8 and +33.1‰ (mean = +24.1) and δ13C compositions between -14.4 and -21.8‰ (mean = -17.8). Despite the unusually high values for δ15N, results are consistent with previous isotope studies in northern Chile using traditional biomaterials (collagen, hair, fingernail, muscle). This provides an additional line of support that dental calculus can be used as a proxy for obtaining stable isotope signatures in bioarchaeological research. The causes underlying the heaviest δ15N compositions in northern Chile are not definitive, but they may involve a combination of desert aridity and a significant dietary component influenced by the use of isotopically-heavy guano as a crop fertilizer during later periods. Nitrogen values also suggest marine resources were a significant dietary component for all time periods.

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