The 84th Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (2015)

Exploring childhood diet of survivors and non-survivors in prehistoric Tonga (c. 500 - 150 BP) using isotopic analyses


1Department of Anatomy and Structural Biology, University of Otago, 2Department of Anthropology, University of British Columbia, 3Department of Human Evolution, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology

March 27, 2015 8:45, Grand Ballroom C Add to calendar

Isotopic analyses of bone collagen allows researchers to explore diet within the past few years of an individual’s life, while dentine collagen represents childhood diet. This study utilized isotopic analyses (δ15N and δ13C) from dentine and bone collagen in adults and collagen from cortical bone in non-adults aged 5+ years from two prehistoric burial mounds from the island of Tongatapu, Tonga (n=60). These two burial mounds possibly interred individuals of different social status (commoners and chiefly families).

Despite significant isotopic differences between sexes and the burial mounds when examining adult bone collagen, there were no differences between sexes or burial mounds in the childhood diet of adults (inferred via dentine collagen). While adults were potentially affected by social differences regarding food resource redistribution or as a result of differing food procurement practices, as children they may have been free of these cultural constraints.

Survivors and non-survivors of childhood displayed similar diets within the last few years of life as inferred from isotopic analyses of bone collagen. Dentine from adults displayed significantly higher δ15N values compared with bone collagen from the same individuals and the bone collagen from non-adults. Thus, it can be suggested that age affected food access for those who survived childhood. Individuals who consumed proportionately more higher trophic level protein survived into adulthood and dietary differences may have been involved in childhood mortality. Paleopathological exploration of infectious diseases and metabolic distress are utilized to further understand how resource access affected the life experiences of children in prehistoric Tonga.