Published online by Cambridge University Press: 20 January 2017
Stable isotopic analysis of carbon and nitrogen in human and faunal remains has been widely used to reconstruct prehistoric diets and environmental changes. Isotopic analysis of plant remains allows for a more extensive consideration of paleodiets and can potentially provide information about the environment in which the crops were grown. This paper reports the results of δ13C and δ15N analyses performed on modern and charred archaeological foxtail millet samples collected from the western part of the Chinese Loess Plateau. The δ13C mean value of modern samples is lower than that of ancient samples. There is a significant difference between grain and leaf δ15N values. These results challenge the standard assumption in isotope studies that the nitrogen isotope signals of the different part of plants consumed by humans and animals are the same. The 3–5‰ difference between human and animal δ15N values is always regarded as an indicator of whether human diets contained considerable animal protein. The difference between grain and leaf δ15N values makes this assumption problematic in a foxtail millet-dominated society.