The University of Arizona

Dietary Reconstruction and Reservoir Correction of 14C Dates on Bones from Pagan and Early Christian Graves in Iceland

? E Sveinbj?rnsd?ttir, J Heinemeier, J Arneborg, N Lynnerup, G ?lafsson, G o?ga

Abstract


In this study, ?13C and ?15N of bone samples from 83 skeletons (79 humans, 2 horses, and 2 dogs) excavated from pagan and early Christian graves from 21 localities in Iceland are used to reconstruct diet of the early settlers in Iceland and possible differences in diet depending on the distance between the excavation site and the seashore. We have radiocarbon dated 47 of these skeletons and used the carbon isotopic composition (?13C) to estimate and correct for the marine reservoir effect (the 14C difference between terrestrial and mixed marine organisms). The reservoir-corrected ages lie in the range of AD 780?1270 (68.2% probability). Reservoir age corrections were checked by comparing 14C dates of a horse (terrestrial diet), a dog (highly marine diet), and a human (mixed diet) from the same burial. The range in measured marine protein percentage in individual diet is from about 10% up to 55%, mostly depending on the geographical position (distance from the sea) of the excavation site. We had access to the skeleton (AAR-5908) of the Sk?lholt bishop P?ll J?nsson whose remains are enshrined at the Episcopal residence in Sk?lholt, southern Iceland. According to written sources, the bishop died in AD 1211. Using our dietary reconstruction, his bones were about 17% marine, which is within the range of human skeletons from the same area, and the reservoir-corrected calibrated 14C age of the skeleton is in accord with the historical date.

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