Bone chemistry and paleodiet: Reconstructing prehistoric subsistence-settlement systems in Australia

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    This article reviews the results of bone collagen stable carbon and nitrogen isotope paleodietary studies conducted in Australia. Stable isotopic analyses of prehistoric human and faunal bones and teeth provide a means to assess past Aboriginal dietary patterns and habitat use, palaeoclimate, and palaeoecology. In some cases, the relative consumption of marine versus terrestrial foods or use of C3-vs C4-based foods within terrestrial ecosystems and access to these various habitats can be inferred from stable isotope values. The relationship between mortuary variability and dietary differences can also be addressed. In addition, stable carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, and strontium isotopes can provide information about changes in past rainfall patterns, climate and plant and animal distributions. Thus, stable isotope studies provide an independent method to assist with the reconstruction of prehistoric subsistence-settlement systems, social systems, and palaeoecology. These biochemical data can supplement information obtained from conventional archaeological studies. Potential contributions of stable isotope research to Australian archaeology and future research directions are discussed.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)103-120
    Number of pages18
    JournalJournal of Anthropological Archaeology
    Issue number2
    Publication statusPublished - Jun 1997


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