From Picts to Parish: stable isotope evidence of dietary change at medieval Portmahomack, Scotland

Curtis-Summers, Shirley; Pearson, Jessica A.; Lamb, Angela L.. 2020 From Picts to Parish: stable isotope evidence of dietary change at medieval Portmahomack, Scotland. Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports, 31, 102303.

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In this study, period-specific dietary trends, along with socio-economic and religious influences on foods consumed by Pictish and medieval inhabitants from Portmahomack are investigated. Bone collagen from human adults (n = 137) and fauna (n = 71) were analysed for stable carbon and nitrogen isotope ratios to enable dietary reconstructions of the whole adult skeletal assemblage. Adult mean δ13C and δ15N values from all periods (6th to 17th century) were −19.5‰ ± 1.3‰ and 13.3‰ ± 1.7‰ respectively. A diachronic change in diet between early medieval Pictish lay and monastic communities (periods 1–3) and the later medieval parish layfolk (periods 4–5) was found that suggests changing socio-economic and religious influences, along with age and gender differences in diet that reflect possible divisions in labour and status. Faunal data also reflected a diachronic change in diet, most likely related to a change in animal husbandry practices over time. This is the first large-scale study on the Portmahomack assemblage and presents new isotope data to provide a more comprehensive insight into Pictish and medieval subsistence patterns, along with evidence of how religious and social foci may influence diet over time. Such comprehensive investigations can only be adopted by analysing the whole skeletal assemblage, providing robust faunal baselines and inter- and intra-site comparisons. Most importantly, this significant new evidence fundamentally changes our knowledge of diet and subsistence in medieval Scotland and the potential influences therein.

Item Type: Publication - Article
Digital Object Identifier (DOI):
ISSN: 2352409X
Date made live: 31 Jul 2020 14:36 +0 (UTC)

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