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A multi-isotope, multi-tissue study of colonial origins and diet in New Zealand

King, Charlotte L; Buckley, Hallie R; Petchey, Peter; Kinaston, Rebecca; Millard, Andrew; Zech, Jana; Roberts, Patrick; Matisoo-Smith, Elizabeth; Nowell, Geoff; Gröcke, Darren R

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Charlotte L King

Hallie R Buckley

Peter Petchey

Rebecca Kinaston

Jana Zech

Patrick Roberts

Elizabeth Matisoo-Smith

Geoff Nowell

Darren R Gröcke


Objectives: Colonial period New Zealand was lauded as a land of plenty, where colonists could improve their station in life and secure a future for their families. Our understanding of colonial experience, however, is often shaped by historical records which communicate a state‐sponsored version of history. This study aims to reconstruct the lives of settlers using isotopic evidence from the colonial skeletons themselves. Materials and methods: We use skeletal remains from recently excavated colonial sites in Otago (South Island, New Zealand) to illustrate the information that can be gleaned from the isotopic analysis of individuals. We use 87Sr/86Sr to identify European settlers, and δ13C and δ15N from collagen and hair keratin, as well as dental enamel carbonate δ13C to trace dietary change over their life‐courses. Results: Strontium isotope analysis shows that all adults in our sample are non‐local. Dietary isotopes show that while most individuals had relatively consistent childhood diet, one individual with more rural origins likely had seasonal use of resources during childhood. While some members of the population seem to have increased their meat intake in the new colony most do not have clear evidence for this. Discussion: We show the diversity of human experience in first‐generation New Zealanders both prior to emigration and in the new colony. Despite colonial propaganda claiming that circumstances in New Zealand were improved for all settlers, we have little evidence for this, aside from among individuals of potentially high status.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Apr 23, 2020
Online Publication Date May 18, 2020
Publication Date 2020-08
Deposit Date May 15, 2020
Publicly Available Date May 18, 2021
Journal American Journal of Physical Anthropology
Print ISSN 0002-9483
Publisher Wiley
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 172
Issue 4
Pages 605-620
Public URL
Publisher URL https:/


Accepted Journal Article (1.6 Mb)

Copyright Statement
This is the peer reviewed version of the following article:
King, Charlotte L, Buckley, Hallie R, Petchey, Peter, Kinaston, Rebecca, Millard, Andrew, Zech, Jana, Roberts, Patrick, Matisoo-Smith, Elizabeth, Nowell, Geoff & Gröcke, Darren R (2020). A multi-isotope, multi-tissue study of colonial origins and diet in New Zealand. American Journal of Physical Anthropology 172(4): 605-620 which has been published in final form at https:/ This article may be used for non-commercial purposes in accordance with Wiley Terms and Conditions for Use of Self-Archived Versions.

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