Stable Isotopes of Carbon and Nitrogen as Tracers for Paleo-Diet Reconstruction

Part of the Advances in Isotope Geochemistry book series (ADISOTOPE)


The isotopic compositions of the tissues of animals and humans are determined by the proportions of the various nutrients which they consume. This allows us to determine how much of each of their available foods were actually consumed over various parts of their lifetime. We apply this to ancient humans by analysis of bones, teeth and, rarely desiccated softer tissues (hair, skin). We review variations in δ13C and δ15N of known classes of nutrients (plants and animals), and discuss the chemical species whose isotopic composition can be analysed: collagen, bone-mineral, and lipids (cholesterol, etc.). Some variation in δ15N also arises from variations in δ15N of soil, particulate matter in the sea, and effect of aridity on N balance in terrestrial animals. Examples are presented of variation in δ13C due to consumption of maize (a C4 plant) and in δ15N due to trophic level effects in prehistoric hunter-gatherers.


Isotopic Composition Dissolve Inorganic Carbon Crassulacean Acid Metabolism Tooth Enamel Bone Collagen 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Geography and Earth SciencesMcMaster UniversityHamiltonCanada
  2. 2.University of California at San DiegoLa JollaUSA

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