Trophic level and macronutrient shift effects associated with the weaning process in the postclassic Maya

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Abstract

The weaning process was investigated at two Maya sites dominated by Postclassic remains: Marco Gonzalez (100 BC–AD 1350) and San Pedro (1400–AD 1650), Belize. Bone collagen and bioapatite were analyzed from 67 individuals (n ≤ 6 years = 15, n > 6 years = 52). Five isotopic measures were used to reconstruct diet and weaning: stable nitrogen- and carbon-isotope ratios in collagen, stable carbon- and oxygen-isotope ratios in bioapatite, and the difference in stable carbon-isotope values of coexisting collagen and bioapatite. Nitrogen-isotope ratios in infant collagen from both sites are distinct from adult females, indicating a trophic level effect. Collagen-to-bioapatite differences in infant bone from both sites are distinct from adult females, indicating a shift in macronutrients. Oxygen-isotope ratios in infant bioapatite from both sites are also distinct from adult females, indicating the consumption of breast milk. Among infants, carbon- and nitrogen-isotope ratios vary, indicating death during different stages in the weaning process. The ethnohistoric and paleopathological literature on the Maya indicate cessation of breast-feeding between ages 3–4 years. Isotopic data from Marco Gonzalez and San Pedro also indicate an average weaning age of 3–4 years. Based on various isotopic indicators, weaning likely began around age 12 months. This data set is not only important for understanding the weaning process during the Postclassic, but also demonstrates the use of collagen-to-bioapatite spacing as an indicator of macronutrient shifts associated with weaning. Am J Phys Anthropol 127:, 2005. © 2005 Wiley-Liss, Inc.

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