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Dietary reconstruction from trace element analysis and dental microwear in an Early Medieval population from Gáň (Galanta district, Slovakia)

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The aim of the study was to determine the diet of an historical human population using the trace elements in dental tissues and dental buccal microwear. Although 38 individuals had been buried in the cemetery, preservation of the remains did not allow analysis of all of them. A total of 13 individuals were analysed, of which the samples for trace-element analysis consisted of 12 permanent premolars from 12 individuals. Buccal microwear was studied in a sample of nine teeth from nine individuals. Both trace-element and microwear analyses were performed on eight individuals. All analyzed teeth were intact, with fully developed roots, without dental calculus and macro-abrasion.

Concentrations of Sr, Zn, and Ca, and their ratios, were used to determine the relative proportions of plant and animal protein in the diet. Samples were analyzed using optical emission spectrometry with inductively coupled plasma. The values of the Sr and Zn concentrations indicate that a diet of the investigated population was of a mixed character with approximately the same proportion of plants and meat in their food.

Buccal microwear was studied in molds of buccal surfaces and observed at 100× magnification with a scanning electron microscope (SEM). Length and orientation of striations were determined with the SigmaScan Pro 5.0 image analysis program. The results obtained from microwear analysis correspond with those from trace-element analysis and showed that the population consumed a mixed diet. The density of the scratches indicates that the diet contained a considerable vegetable component. The high number of vertical scratches and their high average length suggest that individuals also consumed a large portion of meat. The results of both analyses showed that there were also individuals whose diet had probably been poor, i.e. richer in animal protein, which probably could be related to their health or social status in the population.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 01 July 2013

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  • Anthropologischer Anzeiger is an international journal of human biology. It publishes original research papers on all fields of human biological research, that is, on all aspects, theoretical and practical of studies of human variability, including application of molecular methods and their tangents to cultural and social anthropology.

    Other than research papers, Anthropologischer Anzeiger invites the submission of case studies, reviews, technical notes and short reports.
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