Stable isotope ratio analysis of breastfeeding and weaning practices of children from medieval Fishergate House York, UK

Authors

  • Nicole M. Burt

    Corresponding author
    1. Department of Anthropology, University of Alberta, Edmonton AB, Canada
    • Correspondence to: Nicole M. Burt, Department of Human Evolutionary Biology, Harvard University, 11 Divinity Avenue, Cambridge MA 02138, USA. E-mail: nburt@fas.harvard.edu

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ABSTRACT

Rib collagen of 51 juveniles and 11 adult females from the late medieval Fishergate House cemetery site (York, UK) were analyzed using nitrogen and carbon stable isotope ratio analysis to determine the weaning age for this population and to reconstruct diet. The juveniles' ages ranged from fetal to 5–6 years, while the females were of reproductive age. Previous researchers suggested that the children from Fishergate House might have been weaned later than the medieval British norm of 2 years, based on a mortality peak at 4–6 years of age. The results show weaning was complete by 2 years of age, agreeing with previous British weaning studies. The adult female δ15N values have a mean of 11.4‰ ± 1.1‰ and the δ13C values have a mean of −19.4‰ ± 0.4‰. These findings are consistent with previous isotopic studies of female diet in York during this period, though slightly lower. The weaned juvenile nitrogen values were found to be higher than the adult females (12.4‰ ± 1.0‰ for δ15N and −19.7‰ ± 0.5‰ for δ13C), which might indicate a dependence on higher trophic level proteins such as marine fish or pork. Marine fish is considered a high status food and children are considered low-status individuals at this time, making this a particularly interesting finding. Weaning does not appear to coincide with peak mortality, suggesting environment factors may be playing a larger role in child mortality at Fishergate House. Am J Phys Anthropol 152:407–416, 2013. © 2013 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

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