Deciphering diet and monitoring movement: multiple stable isotope analysis of the Viking Age settlement at Hofstaðir, Lake Mývatn, Iceland

Sayle, K. L. , Hamilton, W. D. , Cook, G. T. , Ascough, P. L. , Gestsdóttir, H. and McGovern, T. H. (2016) Deciphering diet and monitoring movement: multiple stable isotope analysis of the Viking Age settlement at Hofstaðir, Lake Mývatn, Iceland. American Journal of Physical Anthropology, 160(1), pp. 126-136. (doi: 10.1002/ajpa.22939) (PMID:26799531)

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Objectives: A previous multi-isotope study of archaeological faunal samples from Skútustaðir, an early Viking age settlement on the southern shores of Lake Mývatn in north-east Iceland, demonstrated that there are clear differences in δ34S stable isotope values between animals deriving their dietary protein from terrestrial, freshwater, and marine reservoirs. The aim of this study was to use this information to more accurately determine the diet of humans excavated from a nearby late Viking age churchyard. Materials and Methods: δ13C, δ15N, and δ34S analyses were undertaken on terrestrial animal (n = 39) and human (n = 46) bone collagen from Hofstaðir, a high-status Viking-period farmstead ∼10 km north-west of Skútustaðir. Results: δ34S values for Hofstaðir herbivores were ∼6‰ higher relative to those from Skútustaðir (δ34S: 11.4 ± 2.3‰ versus 5.6 ± 2.8‰), while human δ13C, δ15N, and δ34S values were broad ranging (−20.2‰ to −17.3‰, 7.4‰ to 12.3‰, and 5.5‰ to 14.9‰, respectively). Discussion: Results suggest that the baseline δ34S value for the Mývatn region is higher than previously predicted due to a possible sea-spray effect, but the massive deposition of Tanytarsus gracilentus (midges) (δ34S: −3.9‰) in the soil in the immediate vicinity of the lake is potentially lowering this value. Several terrestrial herbivores displayed higher bone collagen δ34S values than their contemporaries, suggesting trade and/or movement of animals to the region from coastal areas. Broad ranging δ13C, δ15N, and δ34S values for humans suggest the population were consuming varied diets, while outliers within the dataset could conceivably have been migrants to the area.

Item Type:Articles
Glasgow Author(s) Enlighten ID:Cook, Professor Gordon and Ascough, Dr Philippa and Sayle, Dr Kerry and Hamilton, Professor Derek
Authors: Sayle, K. L., Hamilton, W. D., Cook, G. T., Ascough, P. L., Gestsdóttir, H., and McGovern, T. H.
College/School:College of Science and Engineering > Scottish Universities Environmental Research Centre
Journal Name:American Journal of Physical Anthropology
ISSN (Online):1096-8644
Copyright Holders:Copyright © 2016 Wiley
First Published:First published in American Journal of Physical Anthropology 160(1):126-136
Publisher Policy:Reproduced in accordance with the copyright policy of the publisher.

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