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A Land of Plenty? Colonial Diet in Rural New Zealand

King, Charlotte L; Petchey, Peter; Kinaston, Rebecca; Gröcke, Darren R.; Millard, Andrew R.; Wanhalla, Angela; Brooking, Tom; Matisoo-Smith, Elizabeth; Buckley, Hallie R.

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Charlotte L King

Peter Petchey

Rebecca Kinaston

Angela Wanhalla

Tom Brooking

Elizabeth Matisoo-Smith

Hallie R. Buckley


Colonial New Zealand was built on the ideal of creating better lives for settlers. Emigrants came looking to escape the shackles of the class-system and poor conditions in Industrial Revolution period Britain. Colonial propaganda claimed that most emigrants achieved their aims, but the lives the colonists actually experienced upon reaching New Zealand remain relatively unexplored from a biosocial perspective. In this paper we present a pilot study of stable isotope results of bone collagen from seven adults interred in the St. John’s Cemetery (SJM), Milton, New Zealand (ca. AD 1860–1900). We interpret the diet at Milton and broadly compare our isotopic results with contemporaneous samples from Britain. We show that, like contemporary Britain, the diet of our studied individuals was focused on C3 crops and terrestrial meat sources. Despite higher ????15N values in contemporary UK populations (which can simplistically be interpreted as indicative of higher meat intake), consideration of different local baselines makes it likely that this New Zealand population had relatively similar levels of meat intake. Interestingly marine resources did not form an important part of the Milton diet, despite the site's proximity to the ocean, hinting at the possible stigmatisation of local resources and the development of a European New Zealand (pākehā) food identity.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Dec 20, 2019
Online Publication Date Feb 18, 2021
Publication Date 2021-06
Deposit Date Jan 9, 2020
Publicly Available Date Feb 18, 2022
Journal Historical archaeology.
Print ISSN 0440-9213
Electronic ISSN 2328-1103
Publisher Springer
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 55
Issue 2
Pages 250-268
Public URL


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