Reconstructing diet and tracing life histories in colonial populations of the northeastern Caribbean using stable carbon and nitrogen isotopes
MetadataShow full item record
AbstractThis dissertation uses stable carbon and nitrogen isotope analysis in conjunction with archaeological and historical evidence to reconstruction diet, and the trace of life histories of individuals in three colonial era (circa A.O. 1800) cemetery populations from three adjacent islands (Antigua, Guadeloupe and Montserrat) of the Northeastern Caribbean. The cemetery populations studied were excavated in response to disturbance by modern development or weather related erosion. Two of them are believed to be comprised largely of enslaved individuals of African origin and descent. The remaining cemetery population is of mixed origin including regular British Naval personnel of European origin as well as enslaved blacks of African origin and descent. The main purpose of this work is to establish isotopic signatures that represent the dietary habits of enslaved populations of the Northeastern Caribbean during the colonial era. The data reveal that while there are consistent similarities in terms of diet among the three populations that represent enslaved individuals, a large range of variability also exists. No significant differences in diet between the sexes were identified. The isotopic data is generally consistent with historic accounts of slave diet. The majority of individuals were consuming a diet that relied on a mix of C3 and C4 staple grains (maize and Guinea corn) and root crops (e.g., cassava, yams). The variability is attributed to the great diversity of geographic and cultural origins of the enslaved populations, as well as status differences among the three groups. The isotopic data indicate that the main dietary difference among the three groups is due to consumption of different protein sources (marine versus terrestrial). Life histories of 51 individuals from the three cemeteries were investigated using tooth and bone apatite. Comparison of the 813C values of the two tissues reveals that 21 individuals experienced a substantial change in diet from childhood to adulthood. The dietary changes were probably the result of their enforced immigration to the Caribbean from their birthplace in Africa. This is the first work to apply stable isotope analyses to questions of diet in the Caribbean during the historic period. Furthermore, it is the first attempt to trace life histories using stable isotope analyses of probable immigrant populations of the Caribbean.
Bibliography: p. 229-255