Human Ecology

, Volume 40, Issue 4, pp 487–509 | Cite as

The Signs of Maize? A Reconsideration of What δ13C Values Say about Palaeodiet in the Andean Region

  • Lauren Cadwallader
  • David G. Beresford-Jones
  • Oliver Q. Whaley
  • Tamsin C. O’Connell


Palaeodietary isotope studies have long assumed C4 signals in South American archaeological populations to be due to the consumption of maize (Zea mays), which in turn, underlie interpretations important social processes. We presents δ13C data from wild plants (n = 89) from the south coast of Peru, which may have been significant in the diets of humans and animals in the past. A combination of these with previously published results from domesticates of the Andean region (n = 144) brings the proportion of C4 species likely to have contributed to the human dietary isotopic signal, whether directly or indirectly, to almost one third. This undermines the widespread assumption that maize is the only plant to contribute a C4 signal to diets. By considering both direct and indirect routes whereby C4 plants may have contributed to the human isotopic signal we show the need for a reassessment of how palaeodietary studies are interpreted in the Andes, and perhaps elsewhere in the Americas.


Human and animal palaeodiet Andes C3 and C4 plants Wild plant use Camelids 



We would like to thank Catherine Kneale, Mike Hall and James Rolfe for help with isotope analysis; the Dorothy Garrod Laboratory for Isotopic Analysis (University of Cambridge) for facilitating this research, Alberto Benavides G. and Jane Wheeler for personal communications; and Octavio Pecho and Alfonso Orellana for many of the plant collections made for the Kew Darwin Project and used in our study here. LC would like to thank the AHRC, the Anthony Wilkins Fund and the Santander Universities Grant for Travel to Latin America for enabling this research as well as Alexander Pullen for all his support in the field. TCO would like to thank the Wellcome Trust.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Lauren Cadwallader
    • 1
  • David G. Beresford-Jones
    • 2
  • Oliver Q. Whaley
    • 3
  • Tamsin C. O’Connell
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of Archaeology and AnthropologyUniversity of CambridgeCambridgeUK
  2. 2.McDonald Institute for Archaeological ResearchUniversity of CambridgeCambridgeUK
  3. 3.Royal Botanical Gardens, KewRichmondUK

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