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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Exploring human dietary variation through stable isotope analysis of hair Cooper, Catherine Grace


This thesis explores the use of carbon, nitrogen and sulphur stable isotope analysis of modern and archaeological human hair as an indicator of human diets. The thesis is focused around three distinct research projects, two on modern, living humans and one on an archaeological population. The first project focuses on dietary variation among different populations in modern Ethiopia that share the same resource base but follow different economic and subsistence patterns. This research shows that economic and cultural patterns can cause very distinct and significant differences in diet among populations with access to the same resources. The second project uses data from modern Nicaraguan villagers to explore variability in isotopic signatures among demographic groups within one population. The data reveal significant differences among demographic groups, but the absolute differences are quite small, indicating that it is necessary to have a large sample size to determine isotopic differences within a population. The third project is an archaeological case study presenting the first serial isotopic analysis of human hair from the Basketmaker II (BMII) midden at the site of Turkey Pen Ruins on Cedar Mesa, in south-eastern Utah. These data show potential seasonality of diet at the site, with variations in the amount of C₄ protein being contributed to the diet. Together these projects contribute to our understanding of how different scales of dietary variation can be interpreted and approached through isotopic analysis of human hair. The studies also show the applicability of both intra-individual and inter-individual isotopic analysis of human hair to our understanding of modern and ancient diets.

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Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International