A global carbon and nitrogen isotope perspective on modern and ancient human diet

Bird, Michael I., Crabtree, Stefani A., Haig, Jordahna, Ulm, Sean, and Wurster, Chris M. (2021) A global carbon and nitrogen isotope perspective on modern and ancient human diet. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 118 (19). e2024642118.

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Abstract

Stable carbon and nitrogen isotope analyses are widely used to infer diet and mobility in ancient and modern human populations, potentially providing a means to situate humans in global food webs. We collated 13,666 globally distributed analyses of ancient and modern human collagen and keratin samples. We converted all data to a common “Modern Diet Equivalent” reference frame to enable direct comparison among modern human diets, human diets prior to the advent of industrial agriculture, and the natural environment. This approach reveals a broad diet prior to industrialized agriculture and continued in modern subsistence populations, consistent with the human ability to consume opportunistically as extreme omnivores within complex natural food webs and across multiple trophic levels in every terrestrial and many marine ecosystems on the planet. In stark contrast, isotope dietary breadth across modern nonsubsistence populations has compressed by two-thirds as a result of the rise of industrialized agriculture and animal husbandry practices and the globalization of food distribution networks.

Item ID: 67979
Item Type: Article (Research - C1)
ISSN: 1091-6490
Keywords: trophic; isotope; isoscape; diet
Copyright Information: Copyright © 2021 the Author(s). Published by PNAS. This open access article is distributed under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives License 4.0 (CC BY-NC-ND).
Funders: Australian Research Council
Projects and Grants: ARC Centre of Excellence for Australian Biodiversity and Heritage (CE170100015)
Date Deposited: 06 May 2021 06:08
FoR Codes: 43 HISTORY, HERITAGE AND ARCHAEOLOGY > 4301 Archaeology > 430101 Archaeological science @ 70%
37 EARTH SCIENCES > 3703 Geochemistry > 370303 Isotope geochemistry @ 30%
SEO Codes: 13 CULTURE AND SOCIETY > 1307 Understanding past societies > 130799 Understanding past societies not elsewhere classified @ 100%
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