Palaeodietary reconstruction as an alternative approach to poorly preserved early medieval human bone assemblages: the case of Boadilla (Toledo, Spain)

Abstract

This article presents the results of research on the human population buried at the early medieval cemetery of Boadilla (Toledo, Spain). This was the burial ground of a rural community that was established at the nearby village of Alameda del Señorío. Both sites were occupied between the end of the fifth and the beginning of the eighth century. The cemetery was characterized by the ordered arrangement of its graves, the frequent re-use of graves and the deposition of grave goods in some burials. The human osteological assemblage was poorly preserved. The minimum number of individuals was estimated to comprise 226 individuals recovered in 181 burials. The population had a demographic profile typical of premodern agricultural societies. Carbon and nitrogen stable isotope analyses were successfully carried out on 73 human and 20 faunal samples. The results indicate that the faunal diet was exclusively based on C3 resources and point to different management strategies for each taxon. The human diet was mainly based on C3 plants, but most individuals also consumed small but regular amounts of C4 resources. Protein intake was very variable and related to age, with subadults between 3 and 7 years old having the lowest intake. No relationship was found between the diet of the deceased and the deposition of grave goods in their graves. Finally, there was less variation between the individuals buried in the same grave than within the whole population, an aspect that may suggest the presence of family burials.

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Acknowledgements

The authors thank Óscar Rodríguez Monterrubio for access to his unpublished zooarchaeological report, Idoia Grau-Sologestoa for help identifying faunal samples and undergraduate students of the module “Advanced topics in Archaeology” 2013-2014 at UPV/EHU who assisted in processing the anthropological material.

Funding

This study is part of MIGC’s PhD dissertation, currently in progress at the University of the Basque Country (UPV/EHU) and sponsored by the Spanish Ministry of Education (FPU program, AP2010-5177). This research was also financed by the Research Group in Heritage and Cultural Landscapes of the Government of the Basque Country (IT931-16) and the project “Peasant agency and social complexity in north-western Iberia in the medieval period” of the Spanish Ministry of Economy (HAR2016-76094-C4-2R).

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García-Collado, M.I., Ricci, P., Catalán Ramos, R. et al. Palaeodietary reconstruction as an alternative approach to poorly preserved early medieval human bone assemblages: the case of Boadilla (Toledo, Spain). Archaeol Anthropol Sci 11, 3765–3782 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12520-018-0672-0

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Keywords

  • Carbon and nitrogen stable isotope analysis
  • Early Middle Ages
  • Spain
  • Skeletal preservation
  • Millets
  • Family groups