• Diet and death in times of war: isotopic and osteological analysis of mummified human remains from southern Mongolia

      Turner, B.L.; Zuckerman, M.K.; Garofalo, E.M.; Wilson, Andrew S.; Kamenov, G.D.; Hunt, D.R.; Amgalantugs, T.; Frohlich, B. (2012-10)
      This study presents the results of an isotopic analysis of nine naturally mummified individuals—three adults, two adolescents, one juvenile, and three infants—recovered from the Hets Mountain Cave site in southern Mongolia, where they had been secondarily deposited. All of the individuals show evidence of violent perimortem trauma, but no skeletal indicators of nutritional or disease-related stress. Multi-isotopic data (δ13C, δ15N, δ18O, 87Sr/86Sr, and 20nPb/204Pb) were characterized in multiple tissues from each individual when possible, in order to reconstruct diet composition and residential origin at different points in life. Specifically, δ13C and δ15N in bone carbonate and collagen (N = 8) and hair keratin (N = 4) were coupled with enamel carbonate δ18O and δ13C (N = 3) and enamel 87Sr/86Sr, and 20nPb/204Pb (N = 3) to assess diet and residential mobility in relation to skeletal indicators of health and trauma. Results are consistent with a persistence of mixed C3/C4 pastoral subsistence and general stability of diet composition over the life course, in contrast to contemporary accounts of widespread famine and a dependence on grains imported from China throughout the region. However, results also suggest that at least some individuals may have migrated to this region of southern Mongolia from elsewhere during life, meaning that their dietary isotopic profiles may not represent local subsistence patterns near the Hets Mountain Cave site. Overall, these results speak to the utility of life course oriented multi-isotopic analysis in complementing more top-down historical analyses in understanding variation in subsistence, nutrition, and migration in regions undergoing significant political and economic turmoil.