Stable isotope evidence for sex- and status-based variations in diet and life history at medieval Trino Vercellese, Italy



The medieval period in Europe was a time of unprecedented social complexity that affected human diet. The diets of certain subgroups—for example, children, women, and the poor—are chronically underrepresented in historical sources from the medieval period. To better understand diet and the distribution of foods during the medieval period, we investigated stable carbon and nitrogen isotope ratios of 30 individuals from Trino Vercellese, Northern Italy (8th–13th c.). Specifically, we examined diet differences between subgroups (males and females, and high- and low-status individuals), and diet change throughout the life course among these groups by comparing dentine and bone collagen. Our results show a diet based on terrestrial resources with input from C4 plants, which could include proso and/or foxtail millet. Diets of low-status males differ from those of females (both status groups) and of high-status males. These differences develop in adulthood. Childhood diets are similar among the subgroups, but sex- and status-based differences appear in adulthood. We discuss the possibility of cultural buffering and dietary selectivity of females and high-status individuals. Am J Phys Anthropol 2012. © 2012 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.