Experimental Evidence for the Relationship of the Carbon Isotope Ratios of Whole Diet and Dietary Protein to Those of Bone Collagen and Carbonate

  • Stanley H. Ambrose
  • Lynette Norr


The use of stable carbon isotopes for diet reconstruction is predicated on the assumption that you are what you eat. In other words, the carbon isotopic composition of animal tissues is assumed to be a direct and constant function of the diet. Is this assumption valid? Precise dietary reconstruction requires as accurate knowledge of the isotopic composition of locally available dietary resources, as well as an adequate understanding of the effects of nutrition, environment, and physiology on the diet-tissue function (van der Merwe 1982, 1989; Chisholm 1989; Norr 1990; Matson and Chisholm 1991; Tieszen 1991; Ambrose 1992). There is a systematic but poorly defined difference between the isotopic composition of the consumer tissues and that of the diet (an enrichment factor, expressed as Δ diet-tissue). Given the isotopic composition of a specific tissue, that of the diet or of other tissues may be calculated if the Δ diet-tissue difference factors are known. The dietary proportions of isotopically distinct food resources (e.g., C3 vs C4, or C3 vs marine) have thus been calculated from the δ 13C value of bone collagen (Δ13Cd-co) and bone apatite carbonate (Δ13Cd-ca). Deviations from actual or assumed average δ 13C values for dietary endmembers, and incorrect values for diet-to-tissue isotopic relationships, will lead to errors in the estimation of consumption of specific classes of resources. Experiments and observations designed to determine the diet-to-collagen stable isotope functions (Δ13Cd-co) however, have provided widely different values.


Carbon Isotope Carbon Isotope Ratio Wheat Gluten Bone Collagen Stable Carbon Isotope Ratio 
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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 1993

Authors and Affiliations

  • Stanley H. Ambrose
  • Lynette Norr
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of AnthropologyUniversity of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC)UrbanaUSA

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