Using Prehistoric Mummy Hair and Stable Isotopes to Understand Paleodiet and Seasonality: A Case Study in the Lower Pecos of South Texas

Date

2013

Authors

Verostick, Kirsten A.

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Abstract

Stable isotope research has experienced refinements in analytical techniques and interpretations allowing complex reconstructions of prehistoric diets at variable temporal scales. This thesis presents a fine-grained analysis of hunter-gatherer diet in the Lower Pecos region using stable carbon and nitrogen isotopic data extracted from human hair. Isotopic analysis of hair from a Late Archaic desiccated individual recovered in the 1930s from a rock shelter illustrates a monthly diet reconstruction. Critical to this reconstruction is the establishment of the early summer as an approximate season of death for this individual called the Skiles Mummy. This early summer period is inferred based on previous analysis of intestinal contents. Assuming a rate of hair growth at roughly one centimeter a month, the approximate period of death allows a monthly determination of stable carbon and nitrogen isotopic values in hair segments for roughly the last 17 months of life for this individual. These data show seasonal shifts over a single year, with a 2.9 per mil difference in delta 13C values and a 1 per mil difference in delta 15N values. When combined with ecological data on resource availability, the results of this fine-grained reconstruction aids in addressing questions about seasonal resource use in the region.

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Keywords

Hair, Hunter-gatherers, Lower Pecos, Prehistoric Diet, Seasonal variance, Stable Isotopes

Citation

Department

Anthropology