Stable isotope studies in human evolution


  • Margaret J. Schoeninger

    Search for more papers by this author
    • Margaret J. Schoeninger is professor of anthropology at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. She has published extensively on aspects of nutritional ecology, with particular attention to dietary change among prehistoric human populations in North America, Europe, and Africa. Her most recent focus has been on the use of carbon and oxygen isotope ratios in proteinaceous and mineral tissue as monitors of aspects of climate and ecology.


The discipline of human evolution usually involves the evaluation of changes in gross and molecular morphology or changes in artifact assemblages. In contrast, stable isotope analysis is an indirect line of investigation. Understanding the human evolutionary sequence requires information on nutritional, biobehavioral, and general ecology. These are the kinds of information that stable isotope analysis can provide. Such studies may not identify the mechanisms for change, but their application serves to elucidate the situations under which change occurred.