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

Stable Isotopes and the Three Evolutionary Forces in Biomedical Anthropology


1Anthropology, Western University, 2Earth Sciences, Western University

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Disease, diet and climate are the three main evolutionary forces acting upon any living population. To understand the evolutionary dynamics and histories of diseases, and to reconstruct pathogenesis and epidemiology are the primary goals of paleopathologists, their overarching goal being the use of such information to inform modern medical knowledge, theory and practice. Because we are isotopic reflections of our physical environments and to some extent, our physiology, isotopic information can aid the understanding of disease, diet and environmental interactions. Here we use data from Africa and the Americas to demonstrate ways in which stable isotopes have been used to identify diet, environment (physical and social), and human behavior e.g., geographic mobility, infant feeding as risk factors of disease, and suggest ways that the potential contribution of stable isotopes to biomedical anthropology might be better realized. These include: 1) integration of isotopic data on mobility, physical and cultural environmental change with paleopathological data, 2) expanded use of tissue clocks with microsampling techniques, 3) development of other isotopes (e.g. sulphur, hydrogen, iron) and their integration with carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, strontium, and 4) use of compound specific analyses to refine diet reconstruction and better understand physiological and disease dynamics affecting proteins.

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