Diet and society in Poland before the state: stable isotope evidence from a Wielbark population (2nd c. AD)

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Abstract

The 1st-4th c. AD Wielbark culture of Eastern Europe is relatively understudied bioarchaeologically due to the fragmentary nature of its cemeteries. Here, we report the first stable isotope analysis of Wielbark diet using stable carbon and nitrogen isotope signatures from both collagen and carbonate of 30 individuals from Rogowo, a 2nd c. Wielbark cemetery in North-Central Poland. Diet at Rogowo was primarily based on terrestrial foods and included millet, a C4 plant cultivated by many Slavic populations in Europe. Anadromous fish likely supplemented the diet, which is clarified when considering collagen and carbonate data in tandem. Stable isotope differences between the sexes indicate that men and women may have consumed different foods, although there is a possibility that women immigrated to Rogowo from an isotopically different region of Europe. No significant differences are noted in δ13C or δ15N of women with and without grave goods, suggesting little social differentiation within the Wielbark culture, at least in terms of daily food access. Reconstructing human diet in Europe through stable isotope analysis is problematic because of the relative isotopic homogeneity in this region of the world. This study further demonstrates the utility of using both carbonate and collagen stable isotope data in tandem to reconstruct past European diet.

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