Examining Diet and Foodways via Human Remains

  • Sarah Schrader
Part of the Bioarchaeology and Social Theory book series (BST)


In this chapter, I will describe how dietary reconstruction, assessed via human teeth and bone, can be used as yet another way to address everyday life. Like activity reconstruction, there are several methods that osteologists employ that can speak to what an individual consumed. It is important to note that eating is much more than just a functional activity—it is a social act that can be either public or private and simultaneously incorporates many aspects of identity and practice including food choice, preparation, presentation, and consumption. Thus, when we view the skeleton as embodied remains of social and biological experiences, we can address several aspects of this day-to-day experience. As in Chapter  3, I will discuss several of these methods including, stable isotope (carbon and nitrogen), compound-specific, and dental wear analyses, in subsections.

I then present a carbon and nitrogen isotope case study, which focuses on Nubians and Egyptonubians living in the Second Cataract region of Lower Nubia during the Second Millennia BCE. This region was conquered and colonized by the Egyptian Empire in 1943 BCE and a series of fortresses were built to enforce imperial control. The indigenous Nubians living in this region are known as the C-Group. Some Nubians adopted the burial practices of the Egyptians and are thus referred to as Pharaonic. Isotopic results indicate differing diets between the C-Group and Pharaonic samples. I suggest that this is not the product of the environment, but rather these data speak to the active social choice to consume certain foods. The C-Group sample likely consumed foods that were similar to the Nubian capital city, Kerma, and the Pharaonic sample may have eaten foods that were comparable to an Egyptian diet. I suggest that for the C-Group these isotopic data may illustrate the embodiment of daily resistance to imperial control. For the Pharaonic sample, their dietary patterns may also have been agentive, as they may have used identity fluidity to their advantage in an imperial social system.


Carbon Nitrogen Social identity Agency Resistance C-Group Pharaonic Egypt Nubia 


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© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Sarah Schrader
    • 1
  1. 1.Faculty of ArchaeologyLeiden UniversityLeidenThe Netherlands

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