Human dietary δ15N intake: Representative data for principle food items


Correspondence to: Frank Huelsemann, Institute of Biochemistry, German Sport University Cologne, Am Sportpark Müngersdorf 6, 50933 Köln, Germany. E-mail:


Dietary analysis using δ15N values of human remains such as bone and hair is usually based on general principles and limited data sets. Even for modern humans, the direct ascertainment of dietary δ15N is difficult and laborious, due to the complexity of metabolism and nitrogen fractionation, differing dietary habits and variation of δ15N values of food items. The objective of this study was to summarize contemporary regional experimental and global literature data to ascertain mean representative δ15N values for distinct food categories. A comprehensive data set of more than 12,000 analyzed food samples was summarized from the literature. Data originated from studies dealing with (1) authenticity tracing or origin control of food items, and (2) effects of fertilization or nutrition on δ15N values of plants or animals. Regional German food δ15N values revealed no major differences compared with the mean global values derived from the literature. We found that, in contrast to other food categories, historical faunal remains of pig and poultry are significantly enriched in 15N compared to modern samples. This difference may be due to modern industrialized breeding practices. In some food categories variations in agricultural and feeding regimens cause significant differences in δ15N values that may lead to misinterpretations when only limited information is available. Am J Phys Anthropol 152:58–66, 2013. © 2013 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.