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Am J Phys Anthropol. 2006 Jan;129(1):45-54.

Isotopic evidence for breastfeeding and possible adult dietary differences from Late/Sub-Roman Britain.

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  • 1Research Laboratory for Archaeology and the History of Art, University of Oxford, United Kingdom. benjamin.fuller@sthughs-oxford.com

Abstract

Historical documents indicate that breastfeeding and weaning practices have fluctuated in England through history. In order to obtain evidence for general breastfeeding patterns in Late/Sub-Roman Britain, stable carbon and nitrogen isotope values were measured in juvenile and adult skeletons (n = 87) from the cemetery of Queenford Farm, Dorchester-on-Thames, Oxfordshire. As the site contained few individuals between 0-1.5 years of age, it was not possible to determine the initial timing for the introduction of weaning foods. Between ages 2-4 years, the mean +/- SD delta(13)C results (-20.2 +/- 0.3 per thousand) are significantly more negative (t = -4.03, P < 0.001) compared to adult females (-19.7 +/- 0.3 per thousand). This is interpreted as evidence of a different diet being fed to children during weaning. After age 2, the delta(15)N values gradually decline, indicating complete cessation of breastfeeding by 3-4 years. Among adults, stature (males = 1.68 +/- 0.06 m; females = 1.58 +/- 0.07 m) and sexual dimorphism (106) were low, suggesting that the population was possibly under environmental stress. The delta(13)C results for adults are similar, but females show a small but statistically significantly (t = -2.86, P < 0.01) lower mean delta(15)N value (9.9 +/- 0.9 per thousand) compared to males (10.6 +/- 0.5 per thousand). These lower female delta(15)N values possibly reflect the different physiology of the sexes (pregnancy and/or lactation) or the reduced consumption of animal/fish protein by women, and this may have been influenced by individual preference, family needs, or societal values of the era.

PMID:
16229026
[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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