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Bioarchaeological Evidence for Social and Temporal Differences in Diet at Piedras Negras, Guatemala

  • Andrew K. Scherer (a1), Lori E. Wright (a2) and Cassady J. Yoder (a2)

Abstract

In this bioarchaeological study of Classic Maya subsistence, we analyzed porotic hyperostosis, dental caries, and stable isotopes on skeletal remains recovered from 118 burials at Piedras Negras, Guatemala. The abundant porotic hyperostosis and dental caries at Piedras Negras, coupled with a high mean δ13C (mean -9.2 ± 1.0‰) provide evidence for high levels of maize consumption. The isotope data show slight differences among social status groups. Chronological changes in diet are more evident. The Early Classic (A.D. 350-625) skeletons are characterized by moderate heterogeneity in isotope ratios relative to skeletons of the Yaxche phase of the Late Classic (A.D. 625-750). In Yaxche phase skeletons, a prosperous time for Piedras Negras, δ13C and δ15N are homogenous, with an emphasis on dietary maize and terrestrial fauna. In Chacalhaaz times (A.D. 750-825) isotope signatures became much more diverse, with some individuals consuming less maize and/or more freshwater fish. We attribute these changes to significant perturbations in the system of food production and distribution at Piedras Negras in the late eighth century, a process that may have been linked to the disintegration of dynastic kingship at the site and its collapse.

Resumen

En este estudio bioarqueológico analizamos las variables de hiperostosis porótica, caries dentales e isótopos estables en restos óseos de 118 entierros mayas del período Clásico de Piedras Negras, Guatemala. La abundante presencia de hiperostosis porótica y las caries dentales conjuntamente con un alto promedio de δ13C (media -9.2‰ ± 1.0‰) indica un gran consumo de maíz. Los datos isotópicos muestran una menor diferenciación en el estatus social de los grupos. Los cambios cronológicos en la dieta son más evidentes. Los esqueletos del Clásico Temprano (350-625 d.C.) se caracterizan por una moderada heterogeneidad en loas relaciones isotópicas comparados con la fase Yaxche del Clásico Tardío (625-750 d.C.). En la fase Yaxche, un momento próspero en Piedras Negras, los datos de δ13C y δ15N son homogéneos, mostrando énfasis en el consumo de maíz y fauna terrestre. Durante Chacalahaaz (750-825 d.C.), las señales isotópicas son más variadas, con algunos individuos consumiendo menos maíz y/o una mayor cantidad de peces de agua dulce. Atribuimos estos cambios a la desorganización en el sistema de producción y distribución de alimentos en Piedras Negras durante la última parte del siglo VIII, proceso que podría estar ligado a la desintegración de la dinastía reinante y su colapso.

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References

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Bioarchaeological Evidence for Social and Temporal Differences in Diet at Piedras Negras, Guatemala

  • Andrew K. Scherer (a1), Lori E. Wright (a2) and Cassady J. Yoder (a2)

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