Temporal trends in stable isotopes for Nubian mummy tissues

American Journal of Physical Anthropology
C D White, H P Schwarcz


From Meroitic to Christian times (350 B.C.-A.D. 1400), Sudanese Nubia experienced political, economic, cultural, and environmental upheaval. Change in any one of these aspects of ancient lifeways can affect subsistence. Dietary patterns from this period are reconstructed by measuring stable carbon and nitrogen isotope ratios in tissue samples from 146 mummies excavated from five sites in the Wadi Halfa area. On average, delta 13C values of bone collagen, muscle, and skin indicate high consumption levels of C3 plants (presumably wheat or barley staples, mixed vegetables, and fruits) throughout the sequence. However, during the X-Group period (A.D. 350-550), there is a statistically significant increase in consumption of C4 plants (millet or sorghum), which are predominant in both the archeological record and in modern crop production for most of the Northern Sudan. The X-Group period was also associated with a low Nile and political and economic restructuring. Increased use of C4 plants on a seasonal basis is also indicated by shifting delta 13C values along hair shafts for both X-Group and Christian periods. delta 15N values suggest that the major source of protein for all time periods came from herbivorous animals. A small, bu...Continue Reading


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