Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository


Doctor of Philosophy




Dr. Christine White, and Dr. Fred Longstaffe


This thesis investigates the relationship between disease and bone collagen isotope compositions, and uses isotopic analyses of human and faunal bone to examine the diet and geographic associations of two medieval (9th to 16th century) German communities derived from urban (Regensburg, n=111) and rural (Dalheim, n=24) contexts.

The first goal of this research was to determine the reliability of bone collagen isotopic compositions to characterize diet in unhealthy individuals. Examples of bone pathology were selected from two medieval samples and one modern/historic skeletal collection (n=49) in order to measure the extent to which pathology influences intra-skeletal isotopic variability. The carbon- and nitrogen-isotope compositions of collagen from pathological bone were compared to areas of related but unaffected bone. Individuals with osteomyelitic lesions or incompletely remodeled bone fractures demonstrated intra-skeletal variability in their nitrogen-isotope ratios. Overall, these differences were small, but larger than expected for normal intra-skeletal variability, and likely reflect changes in body metabolism that accompany chronic infection and severe trauma.

This work also assessed the reliability of interpreting distinct diets from inter-individual differences in isotopic ratios. The Regensburg sample was used to test whether or not a relationship exists between various diseases and bone collagen nitrogen-isotope compositions when skeletal elements exhibiting pathology are avoided entirely during sampling. Although a number of conditions were evaluated, no disease processes were found to seriously modify original collagen nitrogen-isotope compositions. These results suggest that individuals with obvious bone pathology need not be excluded from isotopic investigations of paleodiet.

The second goal of this research was to investigate the Regensburg and Dalheim populations in terms of diet and geographic identity using a multi-isotope analysis of human and faunal remains. At both sites, diets were based on C3 plants and/or plant-consumers, although minor consumption of millet (C4) cannot be ruled out. Differential access to dietary protein was observed in both communities, but the Regensburg residents likely consumed more foods from a higher trophic level (e.g., freshwater fish). The oxygen-isotope data for bone structural carbonate broadly associated most individuals with their region of burial but identifying specific geographic relocations within the region was not possible.