Skip to main content

Research Repository

Advanced Search

At the world’s edge: reconstructing diet and geographic origins in medieval Iceland using isotope and trace element analyses

Walser, Joe W. III; Kristjánsdóttir, Steinunn; Gröcke, Darren R.; Gowland, Rebecca; Jakob, Tina; Nowell, Geoffrey; Ottley, Christopher; Montgomery, Janet


Joe W. III Walser

Steinunn Kristjánsdóttir

Profile Image

Dr Tina Jakob
Technician in Archaeological Science


Objectives. A multi-isotope study was conducted on individuals buried at Skriðuklaustur monastery (AD 1493–1554) to investigate their geographic origins and dietary composition. Comparative material from individuals excavated from Skeljastaðir, an inland farm site was also analysed. Materials and Methods. Bone collagen was extracted from 50 humans (Skriðuklaustur and Skeljastaðir) and 25 animals (Skriðuklaustur) and analysed for δ13C, δ15N and δ34S. Dental enamel samples from 31 individuals (Skriðuklaustur) were also analysed for 87Sr/86Sr, δ18O, δ13C and trace elements (Pb, Sr, Zn, Ba). Results. The mean value determined from individuals from Skriðuklaustur (n = 36) was δ13C = –18.7 ± 0.8 ‰, δ15N = 12.8 ± 1.1 ‰ and δ34S = 9.0 ± 1.6 ‰, whereas at Skeljastaðir (n = 14) it was δ13C = –20.5 ± 0.8 ‰, δ15N = 7.8 ± 0.9‰ and δ34S = 9.4 ± 1.6‰. At Skriðuklaustur, human dental enamel samples (n = 31) provided a 87Sr/86Sr range of 0.7060–0.7088, δ18Ophosphate from 13.9 ‰ to 16.1 ‰ and δ13Ccarbonate from –16.6 ‰ to –12.9 ‰. Inferred drinking water (δ18Odw) values range from –12.3 ‰ to –8.9 ‰. Sr concentrations range from 25.8 to 156.7 ppm, Ba from 0.11 to 0.81 ppm, Zn from 43.8 to 145.8 ppm and Pb from 0.13 to 9.40 ppm. Discussion. A combination of results indicate that the people from Skriðuklaustur were born in Iceland, but some lived inland during childhood while some lived closer to the coast. Since Skriðuklaustur was a hospital, these individuals may have sought medical treatment at the monastery. The δ13C and δ15N values determined from bone collagen indicate that the people residing at Skriðuklaustur consumed a diet high in marine protein, while those residing at Skeljastaðir exhibit values more consistent with terrestrial resources.


Walser, J. W. I., Kristjánsdóttir, S., Gröcke, D. R., Gowland, R., Jakob, T., Nowell, G., …Montgomery, J. (2020). At the world’s edge: reconstructing diet and geographic origins in medieval Iceland using isotope and trace element analyses. American journal of physical anthropology, 171(1), 142-163.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Oct 29, 2019
Online Publication Date Dec 13, 2019
Publication Date Jan 31, 2020
Deposit Date Oct 21, 2019
Publicly Available Date Jan 2, 2020
Journal American Journal of Physical Anthropology
Print ISSN 0002-9483
Publisher Wiley
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 171
Issue 1
Pages 142-163
Keywords Isotopes, Provenance, Diet, Bioarchaeology, Palaeopathology
Public URL


Accepted Journal Article (Tables and figures) (2.3 Mb)

Publisher Licence URL

Copyright Statement
Tables and figures © 2019 The Authors. American Journal of Physical Anthropology published by Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

This is an open access article under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits use, distribution and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

You might also like

Downloadable Citations