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Homo. 2009;60(4):359-72. doi: 10.1016/j.jchb.2009.01.001. Epub 2009 May 23.

The use of strontium and barium analyses for the reconstruction of the diet of the early medieval coastal population of Gdańsk (Poland): A preliminary study.

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Department of Anthropology, Institute of Zoology, Jagiellonian University, 30-060 Krakow, Poland.


Barium and strontium analyses yield an important perspective on temporal shifts in diet in relation to social and environmental circumstances. This research focuses on reconstructing dietary strategies of individuals in the early medieval (12-13th century) population of Gdańsk on the coast of the Baltic Sea. To describe these strategies where seafood rich in minerals was included in the diet, levels of strontium, barium, calcium and phosphorus were measured in first permanent molars of adult men and women whose remains were excavated from the churchyard in the city centre. Faunal remains from the excavation were analysed as an environmental background with respect to the content of the above-mentioned elements. The impact of diagenesis on the odontological material under study was also determined by an analysis of the soil derived from the grave and non-grave surroundings. For verification of diagenetic processes, the calcium/phosphorus index was used. Strontium, calcium, phosphorus and barium levels were determined with the spectrophotometric method using the latest generation plasma spectrophotometer Elan 6100 ICP-MS. From the results of the analysis of taphonomic parameters such as the soil pH, potential ion exchange in the grave surroundings and the Ca/P ratio, it can be inferred that diagenetic factors had little impact on the studied material. From this pilot study we can conclude that in the early Middle Ages in the Baltic Sea basin, seafood was included in the diet from early childhood and at the same time the diet contained calcium-rich milk products (also rich in minerals). The lack of sex differences may indicate the absence of a sex-specific nutritional strategy in childhood and early adolescence.

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