Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository


Doctor of Philosophy




Christine White & Fred Longstaffe


This dissertation addresses several issues related to isotopic ecology in northern Peru. The first portion of the dissertation focuses on baseline carbon and nitrogen isotopic variability in plants for comparison with paleodietary data. The second portion applies these data to assess animal management practices (camelids) in the Virú Valley on the north coast of Peru using isotopic analysis of bone collagen and serially sampled hair. A detailed survey of plants from the Moche River Valley region demonstrates significant east-west variation in plant carbon and nitrogen isotopic compositions, following changes in altitude from the Pacific coast to the highlands. A growth chamber study and a field experiment show the potential for Andean fertilizers (seabird guano and camelid dung) to increase the δ15N values of plant tissues (by +11 to +45 ‰ for seabird guano and by +2 to +4 ‰ for camelid dung). These findings have important implications for the reconstruction of diet in the Andean region, potentially confounding the interpretation of bulk isotopic data (from bone collagen or hair keratin), with camelid dung fertilized plants appearing isotopically similar to terrestrial animal meat, and guano fertilizer maize appearing isotopically similar to high trophic level marine organisms. Carbon and nitrogen isotopic compositions from camelid bone collagen and hair keratin from two sites (Huaca Gallinazo and Huaca Santa Clara) in the Virú Valley (Peru) are highly variable, with an overall tendency towards higher δ13C and δ15N values relative to modern animals raised in highland environments, suggesting that at least some of these animals were raised locally. The high amount of isotopic variability between individuals, inconsistent amount of within-individual variation, and no consistent shift in isotopic compositions leading up to the time of death is consistent with small-scale camelid husbandry on the north coast of Peru, with small groups of camelids being managed by individual families or other small social units. The isotopic analysis of zooarchaeological material derived from livestock has great potential with respect to better understanding animal husbandry practices, and human-animal interactions in the broadest sense.