‘Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you who you are’: A Multi-Tissue and Multi-Scalar Isotopic Study of Diet and Mobility in Early Medieval England and its European Neighbours

Change log

This thesis is concerned with the impact of socio-economic, political and environmental shifts on Early Medieval communities, specifically England and its links with continental Europe. I have utilised multi-tissue (bone, dentine and enamel), multi-isotope (δ13C, δ15N, δ18O and 87/86Sr) and multi-proxy data to analyse the lifeways of people in Early Medieval England within a European context in a multi-scalar way (sub-continental, regional, kingdom and community scales). This meta-analytical approach has allowed me to investigate Early Medieval transitions across the first millennium AD and better characterise and disentangle human-environment interactions in the period. Throughout this thesis high levels of isotopic variability and cultural dynamism within Early Medieval communities are clear. The core themes of this work are – climate and environment, changing foodways and migration.

This approach has allowed me to better provenance people based on isotopic diversity and see cross-cultural contact. It also highlights the impact of climate change (the Late Antique Little Ice Age and Medieval Warm Period) on human δ18O values, showing the widespread and relatively rapid impact these events had on climate and on drinking water sources.

The significant diachronic changes in both diet and in mobility patterns found here reflect the highly dynamic and far from insular position of England within Europe in the first millennium AD. My analyses support a model of continual and relatively large-scale migration from the continent Europe across the period, and changes to foodways which reflect not just shifts in economics and agricultural practice but changing worldviews (e.g. the impacts of Christianisation).

Isotopic data when combined with archaeo-historical evidence show that identity construction in Early Medieval communities was highly complex, and there is no clear link between isotopic patterns, genetics and grave goods usually seen as “ethnic” signifiers. I show that these were multi-origin communities in continual contact through long-distance networks which influenced the changes we see throughout the first millennium AD.

Hakenbeck, Susanne
O'Connell, Tamsin
archaeology, isotopes, early medieval, europe, diet, mobility, medieval, bioarchaeology
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Awarding Institution
University of Cambridge
Cambridge Trust, Newnham College, Leicestershire Archaeological and Historical Society, Kathleen Hughes Memorial Fund, Cambridge Philosophical Society and the University of Roehampton.