Using stable-isotope analysis to obtain dietary profiles from old hair Public Deposited

http://ir.library.oregonstate.edu/concern/graduate_thesis_or_dissertations/1g05fd746

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  • Stable isotope analysis of human tissue can provide information about diet independent of artifactual remains. Food is broken down and used in the synthesis of body tissue, so the isotopic composition of hair keratin reflects the isotopic composition of foods consumed. Therefore, the analysis of hair can provide a window into broad dietary practices, and this view can supplement the information that is inferred from artifacts such as hunting tools and hearths. This project details the use of historic Plains Indians hair as a sample material for carbon and nitrogen isotope analysis. A minimum specimen size of a 2-cm (l00- 150 μg) segment of a strand was established. This indicates that small hair fragments found in archeological excavations can be informative. It also allowed the testing of up to 12 sequential segments from strands up to 24 cm long. Since hair grows about 1 cm per month, a 24-cm strand provided about a 2-yr record of isotopes and diet. The isotopic variations along some strands were as high as 0.49‰ for δ¹⁵N and 1.05‰ for δ¹³C, exceeding the background analytical uncertainty of 0.22‰ for δ¹⁵N and 0.2l‰ for δ¹³C. Differences between individuals and between population groups also exceeded this background level, validating the use of this isotope technique in discriminating isotopic differences between hairs and between people. No isotopic differences were found between males and females, and no isotopic differences were found based on the age of the individual. This suggests that there are no physiological differences by gender or age affecting isotope metabolism, which means that should a study find an isotopic difference between men and women, it would reflect dietary differences, not physiological ones. Isotope testing produced distinct isotope profiles (δ¹⁵N vs. δ¹³C) for two cultural groups, the Lower Brule reservation Sioux of 1892 and the reservation Blackfoot of 1892 and 1935. The resultant dietary profiles indicate a higher consumption of meat by the Blackfoot and a higher consumption of corn by the Lower Brule. The two groups of Blackfoot fit into the same profile despite the passage of several decades. This raises the possibility that stable isotope analysis can also be used to identify members of the same cultural population.
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