• Assessment of nutritional stress in famine burials using stable isotope analysis

      Walter, B.S.; DeWitte, S.N.; Dupras, T.; Beaumont, Julia (Wiley, 2020-06)
      Objectives: We compared δ15N and δ13C values from bone and dentine collagen profiles of individuals interred in famine‐related and attritional burials to evaluate whether individuals in medieval London who experienced nutritional stress exhibit enriched nitrogen in bone and tooth tissue. Dentine profiles were evaluated to identify patterns that may be indicative of famine during childhood and were compared with the age of enamel hypoplasia (EH) formation to assess whether isotopic patterns of undernutrition coincide with the timing of physiological stress. Materials and Methods: δ15N and δ13C isotope ratios of bone collagen were obtained from individuals (n = 128) interred in attritional and famine burials from a medieval London cemetery (c. 1120–1539). Temporal sequences of δ15N and δ13C isotope profiles for incrementally forming dentine collagen were obtained from a subset of these individuals (n = 21). Results: Results indicate that individuals from attritional graves exhibit significantly higher δ15N values but no significant differences were found between burial types for the sexes. Analyses of dentine profiles reveal that a lower proportion of famine burials exhibit stable dentine profiles and that several exhibit a pattern of opposing covariance between δ15N and δ13C. EH were also observed to have formed during or after the opposing covariance pattern for some individuals. Conclusions: The results of this study may reflect differences in diet between burial types rather than nutritional stress. Though nutritional stress could not be definitively identified using bone and dentine collagen, the results from dentine analysis support previous observations of biochemical patterns associated with nutritional stress during childhood.