Send to

Choose Destination
Am J Phys Anthropol. 2016 Jul;160(3):433-45. doi: 10.1002/ajpa.22980. Epub 2016 Mar 12.

Isotopic perspectives (δ(13) C, δ(15) N, δ(34) S) of diet, social complexity, and animal husbandry during the proto-shang period (ca. 2000-1600 BC) of China.

Author information

Department of Human Evolution, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Leipzig, 04103, Germany.
Department of Archaeology and Anthropology, University of Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing, 100049, China.
Research Centre for Chinese Frontier Archaeology, Jilin University, Changchun, 130012, China.
Hebei Provincial Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology, Shijiazhuang, 050031, China.
Key Laboratory of Vertebrate Evolution and Human Origins of Chinese Academy of Sciences, Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing, 100044, China.
Department of Anthropology, University of British Columbia, 6303 NW Marine Drive, Vancouver, V6T 1Z1, BC, Canada.



To examine dietary patterns and animal husbandry practices and assess the links between human diet and sex, age, burial direction/position, and social status (as inferred by type of grave goods) during the transformative Proto-Shang (ca. 2000-1600 BC) period of China.


Stable isotope ratios of carbon (δ(13) C), nitrogen (δ(15) N), and sulfur (δ(34) S) were analyzed from human (n = 83) and animal (n = 36) bone collagen at the site of Nancheng in Hebei Province, China.


The Proto-Shang population consumed a predominately C4 diet (δ(13) C = -6.8 ± 0.4‰; δ(15) N = 9.4 ± 0.6‰), but a single individual (M70) had a mixed C3 /C4 diet (δ(13) C = -14.9‰; δ(15) N = 10.1‰). The δ(34) S measurement of M70 (8.8‰) is similar to the local animals (8.2 ± 2.6‰) and the other members of the population (7.0 ± 0.8‰) suggesting this individual may not have been a migrant even though the burial direction (north-south) and position (flexed) was different than the majority of the graves in the cemetery.


From comparison with the faunal bone collagen stable isotope results, the Nancheng population ate millets with varying levels of animal protein consumption focused primarily on pigs and possibly cattle and dogs, but sheep/goats, and deer were not eaten in significant amounts. Analysis of the isotopic results in relation to other contemporary sites such as Liuzhuang and Xinzhai show strikingly similar patterns, suggesting that the sheep/goats were likely raised mainly for their secondary products (e.g., wool). No link between diet and sex was found at the population level, but when the data were sorted by age and sex, the older males (>40 years old) were found to have significantly lower δ(13) C values (-6.6 ± 0.3‰; n = 18) compared to the younger males (<40 years old) (-7.3 ± 0.5‰; n = 8). Further, no significant correlations between diet and burial direction/position or social status (based on the type of grave goods) were found at Nancheng, possibly indicating that the dietary social stratification of the later Shang and Zhou Dynasties had yet to be established in Chinese society at this time. Am J Phys Anthropol 160:433-445, 2016.. © 2016 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.


grave goods; migration; millet; paleodiet; social status; wool

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

Supplemental Content

Full text links

Icon for Wiley
Loading ...
Support Center