Reconstruction of prehistoric plant production and cooking practices by a new isotopic method


As archaeological research has focused increasingly on economic questions, archaeologists have collected data that reflect production and consumption of food. Macrobotanical remains, recovered by methods such as water flotation, often provide the most available and relevant data concerning production in archaeological contexts. However, these data do not necessarily reflect the proportion of crops that were consumed1. Here we present a new method, based on isotopic analysis of burnt organic matter, allowing the characterization of previously unidentifiable plant remains extracted from archaeological contexts. We used this method to reconstruct prehistoric production, preparation and consumption of plant foods, as well as the use of ceramic vessels, in the Upper Mantaro Valley region of the central Peruvian Andes2. The method will be of use to archaeologists studying these prehistoric activities in other areas of the world.

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Hastorf, C., DeNiro, M. Reconstruction of prehistoric plant production and cooking practices by a new isotopic method. Nature 315, 489–491 (1985).

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