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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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Research Laboratory for Archaeology and the History of Art, University of Oxford, United Kingdom.


Historical documents indicate that breastfeeding and weaning practices have fluctuated in England through history.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.

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