Carbon isotope analysis of bulk keratin and single amino acids from British and North American hair


  • Presented at the annual meeting of the Stable Isotope Mass Spectrometry Users' Group (SIMSUG), 10–13 April 2005, University of York, York, UK.


The reconstruction of ancient diets using isotopic measurements of bone collagen, and other tissues, which survive in archaeological contexts, relies on known isotopic relationships between diet and body tissues. Examination of these relationships often requires the study of modern human and animal subjects. While hair keratin can act as a useful proxy for bone collagen in isotopic studies on living humans, where it is inappropriate to sample tissues such as collagen, it can, in addition, act as a chronological indicator of dietary change. This study investigates hair keratin δ13C values from current residents of the UK and the USA. Residents in the USA showed a clear bulk hair δ13C enrichment of approximately 3‰ over UK individuals, attributed to an elevated C4 dietary input from maize fed to livestock in North America. The keratin δ13C of subjects who moved between the UK and USA showed a pronounced change after relocation, taking approximately 4 months to reach isotopic equilibrium. To investigate these differences further, we measured δ13C values of dispensable and indispensable amino acids as a group, and selected individual amino acids. As a group, enrichment of dispensable amino acids compared with indispensable amino acids occurred in samples from both continents, averaging 7.2‰ in the UK and 7.9‰ in the USA. Dispensable and indispensable amino acids, as well as all individual amino acids measured, were enriched in samples from the USA compared with those from the UK. Copyright © 2005 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.