Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences

, Volume 11, Issue 7, pp 3213–3223 | Cite as

Stable isotope ratio analysis (C, N, S) of hair from modern humans in Ethiopia shows clear differences related to subsistence regimes

  • Catherine G. Cooper
  • Karen D. Lupo
  • Ashenafi G. Zena
  • Dave N. Schmitt
  • Michael P. Richards
Original Paper


We measured the stable isotope ratios (C, N, S) of modern human hair collected from 49 people in rural southern Ethiopia to characterize and compare the stable isotope signatures of interacting and ethnically distinct populations with differing economic practices (farmers, pastoralists, fishers) in order to determine if the dietary differences are visible and measurable in their hair isotope values. We found that there were significant differences in all three elements that can distinguish these economic practices (carbon: Χ2 = 8.523, p = 0.014; nitrogen: Χ2 = 35.372, p < 0.001; and sulfur: Χ2 = 30.887, p < 0.001). These results demonstrate the utility of isotopic methods as an indicator of dietary difference in living populations and shows that diverse dietary adaptations and economies even among interacting and neighboring peoples can be distinguished in this region of Ethiopia.


Stable isotopic analysis of diet Dietary variability Modern economic and dietary practices Southern Ethiopia 



We thank Reba Macdonald, Olaf Nehlich, David Pokotylo and Liz Jarvis for laboratory and analytical assistance.

Funding information

This project was funded by Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC), Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC), and the University of British Columbia. The research was supported by Southern Methodist University and Hawassa University.

Compliance with ethical standards

The proposal for this study was submitted to the IRB ethics board at Southern Methodist University in December 2012 and accepted. Individuals who provided hair samples for this study confirmed their understanding of the study and gave verbal consent.

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Supplementary material

12520_2018_740_MOESM1_ESM.docx (103 kb)
ESM 1 (DOCX 103 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Catherine G. Cooper
    • 1
  • Karen D. Lupo
    • 2
  • Ashenafi G. Zena
    • 3
    • 4
  • Dave N. Schmitt
    • 2
  • Michael P. Richards
    • 5
  1. 1.The University of British ColumbiaVancouverCanada
  2. 2.Southern Methodist UniversityDallasUSA
  3. 3.Washington State UniversityPullmanUSA
  4. 4.Hawassa UniversityAwassaEthiopia
  5. 5.Simon Fraser UniversityBurnabyCanada

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