An Overview of Causes for Stable Isotopic Variations in Past European Human Populations: Environmental, Ecophysiological, and Cultural Effects

  • Gert J. Van Klinken
  • Mike P. Richards
  • Bert E. M. Hedges
Part of the Advances in Archaeological and Museum Science book series (AAMS, volume 5)


The reconstruction of ancient human diet based on carbon and nitrogen analysis has proved to be relatively simple in the New World: utilization of C4 and marine resources causes relatively large shifts in these stable isotopes. In Europe those food sources seem to play a relatively limited role, resulting in a relatively small range of values observed in past human populations, making dietary analysis much less straightforward. However, an apparent non-random pattern is often observed when isotopic values of regional or temporal groups are compared. In this paper we will describe the factors that contribute to those small-scale isotopic variations, and assess the importance of environmental factors as opposed to anthropogenic, cultural factors. This assessment is possible in part through the use of a large data base generated by the dating process in our laboratory. We conclude that most variation in human δ13C values in Europe is related to regional differences in climate, and that most of the variation in δ13N seems to be caused by variable meat consumption, combined with poorly understood variation in plant nitrogen values.


Stable Isotope Carbon Isotope Tree Ring Nitrogen Isotope Carbon Isotope Ratio 
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Authors and Affiliations

  • Gert J. Van Klinken
  • Mike P. Richards
  • Bert E. M. Hedges

There are no affiliations available

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