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Am J Phys Anthropol. 2018 Feb;165(2):343-352. doi: 10.1002/ajpa.23358. Epub 2017 Nov 13.

Breastfeeding, weaning, and dietary practices during the Western Zhou Dynasty (1122-771 BC) at Boyangcheng, Anhui Province, China.

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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 Archaeology and Anthropology, University of Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing 100049, China.
Department of History, University of Nanjing, Nanjing 210023, China.
Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology of Anhui Province, Hefei 230061, China.
Institute of Cultural Relics of Chuzhou, Chuzhou 239000, China.



Here we investigate breastfeeding and weaning practices and adult dietary habits at the Western Zhou Dynasty (1122-771 BC) site of Boyangcheng () located in Anhui Province, China. In addition, we utilize the differences in bone collagen turnover rates between rib and long bones from the same individual to examine past life histories, such as changes in diet or residence.


Bone collagen from both the rib and long bones (either femora or humeri) of 42 individuals was measured for stable isotope ratios of carbon (δ13 C) and nitrogen (δ15 N). In addition, δ13 C and δ15 N values are reported for 35 animals (dogs, cows, horses, pigs, and deer).


The human δ13 C values range from -20.7‰ to -12.0‰ with a mean value of -18.8 ± 1.6‰. The human δ15 N values range from 9.1‰ to 13.4‰ with a mean value of 10.9 ± 1.0‰. The animals display a wide range of δ13 C (-21.5‰ to -8.2‰; -15.8 ± 4.5‰) and δ15 N values (4.0‰ to 9.5‰; 6.5 ± 1.8‰).


The adult δ13 C and δ15 N results indicate that mixed C3 (rice) and C4 (millet) terrestrial diets with varying levels of animal protein (mostly pigs and deer) were consumed. The elevated subadult δ15 N results return to adult levels by approximately 3-4 years of age, indicating that the weaning process was completed during this period. Individuals between 2 and 10 years old, with lower δ13 C and δ15 N results than the adult mean, possibly consumed more plant-based diets, and this is consistent with Chinese medical teachings ∼1500 years later during the Tang Dynasty (AD 618-907). The isotopic offsets between the ribs and long bones revealed that five adults experienced dramatic dietary shifts in their later lives, switching from predominately C3 /C4 to C3 diets. This research provides the first isotopic information about ancient Chinese breastfeeding and weaning practices and establishes a foundation for future studies to examine diachronic trends.


Bronze Age; China; bone collagen turnover; migration; millet; paleodiet; rice

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