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A comparison of using bulk and incremental isotopic analyses to establish weaning practices in the past

King, Charlotte L.; Millard, Andrew R.; Gröcke, Darren R.; Standen, Vivien G.; Arriaza, Bernardo T.; Halcrow, Siân E.

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Charlotte L. King

Vivien G. Standen

Bernardo T. Arriaza

Siân E. Halcrow


The use of incremental carbon and nitrogen isotopic analysis is gaining momentum as a way of establishing infant feeding practices in the past. Here we examine the differences in information gleaned through incremental isotopic techniques applied to individuals, relative to more commonly-used bulk isotopic sampling of a cross-section of a population. We use bulk sampling methods, which use bone collagen isotope values from multiple individuals, to construct Bayesian weaning curves for our samples. We then compare these results to individual weaning times established through incremental isotopic analysis of single deciduous teeth. Our results highlight that in contexts with high adult dietary variation it may not be possible to interpret weaning behaviour using cross-sectional techniques, and incremental isotopic analysis may be the only way of interpreting weaning behaviours. Our findings also suggest that cross-sectional analyses are the most useful way of creating population-scale interpretations of weaning behaviour within a sample. Incremental techniques, however, are necessary if we want to tell individual weaning stories and investigate the variation in infant-feeding present within the past.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Feb 17, 2018
Online Publication Date Mar 2, 2018
Publication Date Jan 1, 2017
Deposit Date Mar 2, 2018
Publicly Available Date Mar 5, 2018
Journal Science and Technology of Archaeological Research
Publisher Taylor and Francis Group
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 3
Issue 1
Pages 126-134
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Published Journal Article (Advance online version) (2.2 Mb)

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Copyright Statement
Advance online version © 2018 The Author(s). Published by Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

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