The University of Arizona

Utilization of δ13C, δ15N, and δ34S Analyses to Understand 14C Dating Anomalies within a Late Viking Age Community in Northeast Iceland

Kerry L Sayle, Gordon T Cook, Philippa L Ascough, Hildur Gestsdóttir, W Derek Hamilton, Thomas H McGovern


Previous stable isotope studies of modern and archaeological faunal samples from sites around Lake Mývatn, within the Mývatnssveit region of northeast Iceland, revealed that an overlap existed between the δ15N ranges of terrestrial herbivores and freshwater fish, while freshwater biota displayed δ13C values that were comparable with marine resources. Therefore, within this specific ecosystem, the separation of terrestrial herbivores, freshwater fish, and marine fish as components of human diet is complicated when only δ13C and δ15N are measured. δ34S measurements carried out within a previous study on animal bones from Skútustaðir, an early Viking age settlement on the south side of Lake Mývatn, showed that a clear offset existed between animals deriving their dietary resources from terrestrial, freshwater, and marine reservoirs. The present study focuses on δ13C, δ15N, and δ34S analyses and radiocarbon dating of human bone collagen from remains excavated from a churchyard at Hofstaðir, 5 km west of Lake Mývatn. The results demonstrate that a wide range of δ34S values exist within individuals, a pattern that must be the result of consumption of varying proportions of terrestrial-, freshwater-, and marine-based resources. For that proportion of the population with 14C ages that apparently predate the well-established first human settlement of Iceland (landnám) circa AD 871 ± 2, this has enabled us to explain the reason for these anomalously old ages in terms of marine and/or freshwater 14C reservoir effects.

DOI: 10.2458/56.17770


C14, stable isotopes, 34S, 13C, 15N, paleodiet, Iceland

Full Text: