The 81st Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (2012)

The interrelationship of diet and status in early medieval Alamannic societies


1School of Applied Sciences, Bournemouth University, United Kingdom, 2Archaeological Sciences, University of Bradford, United Kingdom

Thursday 3:30-3:45, Galleria North Add to calendar

Humans use dietary behaviour as an expression of biocultural identity and display, a feature linked with social inequality and socio-political circumstances that define prevailing subsistence strategies. Despite these known connections, the extent to which dietary choice develops with social differentiation in past populations is not well understood. Early medieval societies (5th-8th century AD) provide ideal cases to test whether, why and how dietary choice and status begin and continue to co-vary. Characterised as open rank societies they are defined by acquired status and privileges that result in obligations to a ruler. This translates into wealth disparity and varying status. In death, grave inclusions and burial effort reflect and display rank attained during life.

Carbon and nitrogen isotope ratios of human bone collagen and associated faunal samples (total N=116) of two populations reveal different, time-related principles, in which status manifests itself in dietary options. At Pleidelsheim, an earlier formative site, there is a moderate association between dietary quality and number of grave goods and artefact types, while burial type is a very good predictor of protein consumption across the entire sample. At the later site of Kirchheim, nitrogen values suggest that only individuals associated with horse burials in a nobles’ burial site had regular access to higher levels of animal protein compared with the rest of the population, reflecting more firmly established social structures under Frankish rule. The findings demonstrate the possibility to detect how even subtle dietary differences reflect strategies to display social variation.

Funded by The British Academy (HS) and the AHRC and OCHS Scholarship (NS).

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