Superior in Life—Superior in Death: Dietary Distinction of Central European Prehistoric and Medieval Elites

Knipper, Corina and Held, Petra and Fecher, Marc and Nicklisch, Nicole and Meyer, Christian and Schreiber, Hildrun and Zich, Bernd and Metzner-Nebelsick, Carola and Hubensack, Vera and Hansen, Leif and Nieveler, Elke and Alt, Kurt W.. (2015) Superior in Life—Superior in Death: Dietary Distinction of Central European Prehistoric and Medieval Elites. Current Anthropology, 56 (4). pp. 579-589.

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Food production provoked social inequality in agricultural societies. Starting in the European late Neolithic, conspicuously equipped inhumations with elaborate grave architecture indicated representatives of local and possibly regional elites. However, burials are always shaped by a complex combination of the desires of the deceased and of the bereaved, along with ritual customs and norms. Therefore, a superior burial may not always be preceded by long-term superior life conditions. One widely accepted characteristic of social distinction is access to different, supposedly higher-quality food, which is deducible from light stable isotope analysis of carbon and nitrogen in bone collagen (C-13 and N-15). Four remarkable cases of high-elite individuals from the modern territory of Germany spanning from the Early Bronze Age to Medieval times exhibited N-15 values that exceeded those of contemporaneous commoner populations significantly. This demonstrates outstanding dietary compositions, including larger shares of meat and dairy products but also possibly fish, poultry, and the meat of young animals. The results support enduringly different lifestyles and privileges for the representatives of the respective highest social class, despite very different prehistoric and historic contexts.
Faculties and Departments:05 Faculty of Science > Departement Umweltwissenschaften > Integrative Biologie > Integrative Prähistorische und Naturwissenschaftliche Archäologie (IPNA Schünemann)
UniBasel Contributors:Alt, Kurt W.
Item Type:Article, refereed
Article Subtype:Research Article
Publisher:University of Chicago Press
Note:Publication type according to Uni Basel Research Database: Journal article
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Last Modified:20 Sep 2016 05:49
Deposited On:20 Sep 2016 05:49

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