Exploring diet and status in the Medieval and Modern periods of Asturias, Spain, using stable isotopes from bone collagen

Abstract

This study explored the relationship between paleodietary patterns and social inequality in rural human populations from Medieval (AD 600–1499) and Modern (AD 1500–1800) Asturias, Spain. Diets were investigated through stable carbon and nitrogen isotopes from a sample of burials from eight cemetery sites (n = 80). Social status was inferred by burial location, where individuals interred within church buildings (ad sanctos) were compared to those buried in cemeteries. While Medieval and Modern society was strongly hierarchical, burial location is only one factor in determining the status and diet of individuals. It was hypothesized that ad sanctos burials would have elevated δ15N values as a reflection of high-status individuals consuming protein-rich diets in comparison to lower-status peasant populations; however, results found no significant differences in δ15N values between those buried in ad sanctos compared to those buried in cemeteries. Rather, the results of our paleodietary reconstruction indicate that the difference in δ13C values is statistically significant between burial location, where ad sanctos burials have more elevated δ13C than commoner individuals. These elevated δ13C values suggest that those buried in places of prestige often consumed a different diet (more C4 resources) from than those buried outside of church walls.

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Acknowledgments

The authors would like to thank the editors Olalla López-Costas and Michelle Alexander for the opportunity to participate in this issue, and the anonymous reviewers for their thoughtful comments and feedback on this manuscript. Additionally, we would like to thank Angel Villa Vladés, Luis Cabo, and the Museo Arqueológico de Asturias (located in Oviedo, Asturias, Spain). We also wish to thank Dr. Joy Matthews, Stable Isotope Facility, UC Davis, and Dr. Howard Spero, Department of Geology, UC Davis.

Funding

Support for this research was provided by the College of Behavioral and Social Sciences, CSU Chico, Strategic Performance Funding Grant.

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Correspondence to Amy T. MacKinnon.

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MacKinnon, A.T., Passalacqua, N.V. & Bartelink, E.J. Exploring diet and status in the Medieval and Modern periods of Asturias, Spain, using stable isotopes from bone collagen. Archaeol Anthropol Sci 11, 3837–3855 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12520-019-00819-2

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Keywords

  • Bioarchaeology
  • Asturias
  • Spain
  • Paleodiet
  • Stable isotopes
  • Social status
  • Ad sanctos burial