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Volume 54 Issue 9
November 2022
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Citation: Pengfei SHENG and Simei ZHU. The Theory and Approach of Stable Isotope Analysis for Past Diets and Its Application to Historical Research[J]. Academic Monthly, 2022, 54(9): 201-211. shu

The Theory and Approach of Stable Isotope Analysis for Past Diets and Its Application to Historical Research

  • Stable isotope analysis of paleo-diets of humans and animals is a new archaeological tool that uses scientific methods derived from the fields of geochemistry and ecology to analyse human and animal remains from sites to reconstruct their dietary and subsistence practice in the past. After nearly 40 years of development in China, stable isotope analysis has largely clarified the changing dietary patterns of prehistoric populations in early China. In the last decade, scholars have carried out many isotopic analyses of human and animal bone samples from the historical period, and have made new breakthroughs in five areas that deserve attention: the rise and fall of wheat/rice agriculture and millet farming in northern China, the collection and management of empire ritual animals, the interaction and reorganization of agricultural and pastoral populations, the lifeways of women and children, and the reconstruction of individual daily life history. In the future, the deep integration of history, archaeology and stable isotope analysis will provide further insights into the past, present and future of humanity from the perspective of dietary lifestyles.
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        The Theory and Approach of Stable Isotope Analysis for Past Diets and Its Application to Historical Research

        Abstract: Stable isotope analysis of paleo-diets of humans and animals is a new archaeological tool that uses scientific methods derived from the fields of geochemistry and ecology to analyse human and animal remains from sites to reconstruct their dietary and subsistence practice in the past. After nearly 40 years of development in China, stable isotope analysis has largely clarified the changing dietary patterns of prehistoric populations in early China. In the last decade, scholars have carried out many isotopic analyses of human and animal bone samples from the historical period, and have made new breakthroughs in five areas that deserve attention: the rise and fall of wheat/rice agriculture and millet farming in northern China, the collection and management of empire ritual animals, the interaction and reorganization of agricultural and pastoral populations, the lifeways of women and children, and the reconstruction of individual daily life history. In the future, the deep integration of history, archaeology and stable isotope analysis will provide further insights into the past, present and future of humanity from the perspective of dietary lifestyles.

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