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Publication type: Journal Article
Document type: Full Paper

Year: 1993

Author(s): Wolfsperger, M

Title: Trace-Element Analysis Of Medieval And Early-Modern Skeletal Remains From Western Austria For Reconstruction Of Diet.

Source: Homo 43(3): 278-294.

Vetmed Research Units
Institute of Animal Nutrition and Functional Plant Compounds

Femora from the two Austrian archaeological sites of Mattsee (n = 23) and Thalgau (n = 42), both dating from a period between A.D. 1000 and A.D. 1800, have been analysed for strontium, zinc, calcium, and phosphorus contents. In Thalgau as well as in Mattsee, high ranking individuals from 17th/18th century showed lower strontium and higher zinc levels than those from medieval times. Since plants exhibit low Zn/Ca and high Sr/Ca ratios contrasting to high Zn/Ca and low Sr/Ca ratios in meat, these values indicate higher meat consumption in early modern times compared to Early and High Middle Ages. As for comparison of social strata in early modem Thalgau, the interpretation of the collected data proved to be more difficult because upper class individuals showed both higher Sr and higher Zn concentrations. Using a more sophisticated model which takes account of 1) food items differing from the basic Zn/Sr pattern (e. g. seafood, dairy products) and 2) mutual effects affecting bioavailability of Sr and Zn in the gut, the following status-related dietary differences have been found: The lower class covered its need of animal protein chiefly by milk and/or dairy products, the upper class mainly by meat. Furthermore, the upper class must have had a privileged access to seafood. This interpretation is well confirmed by the written records available for that period. Thus, trace element analysis which is still debated in (pre)historic physical anthropology again proved to be a comprehensive diagnostic tool for dietary reconstruction, especially with regard to synchronic and diachronic differentiations within past populations.

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