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Title: Reconstructing diet, health and activity patterns in early nomadic pastoralist communities of inner Asia
Author: Machicek, Michelle L.
ISNI:       0000 0004 2734 2748
Awarding Body: University of Sheffield
Current Institution: University of Sheffield
Date of Award: 2012
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From the distant past until the present day, the archetypal image of the vast steppe lands of Inner Asia has been represented by populations practicing various forms of nomadic pastoralism as their predominant means of subsistence and way of life. While existing research in this region has focussed on questions pertaining to empire formations and interactions, as well as social and political complexity, a more developed understanding of diet, health, and activity patterns has yet to be established. Towards this end, the broad aim of this dissertation entails the reconstruction of diet, health and activity in discrete populations which inhabited this region from c. 1500 BCE to CE 600. These objectives have been addressed through a comprehensive research programme involving osteological and chemical analyses of human skeletal remains, derived from archaeological sites located throughout modern-day southern Siberia, Mongolia, Inner Mongolia, Xinjiang and Kyrgyzstan. Additional skeletal samples dating from c. CE 1200 to 1300 and a late historic sample from c. CE 1700 to 1900 have been included to provide a comparative framework for the earlier material under study. This dissertation aimed to challenge assumptions, which often presuppose a predominantly mobile pastoralist lifestyle for many of these populations, by providing indirect and direct evidence for dietary habits and evidence for workload and activity patterns. Long-term dietary intake was investigated through the analysis of stable carbon and nitrogen isotopes on both human skeletal remains and associated archaeological faunal material. Diet has also been assessed through a comprehensive study of dental pathology and dental wear analysis. Health and nutrition has been assessed through the study of dental pathology, linear enamel hypoplasia, and degenerative joint disease. Workload and activity patterns have been addressed through the combined analysis of musculo-skeletal stress markers and degenerative joint disease. The key results of this dissertation indicate dietary variation and similarities in distinct communities which are related to food procurement strategies carried out at local group levels. The results of the isotopic and dental pathology analyses indicate dietary variation in discrete groups which may have been labelled under the same terms historically and archaeologically, but based on these findings did not necessarily engage in identical subsistence regimes. In addition, the results of the isotopic analyses reflect the influence of the inhabitation of and environments on 615N isotopic signatures and reinforce the need for contextualising isotopic results within local environmental settings. The analysis of degenerative joint disease, coupled with musculo-skeletal stress marker recording has provided an indication of variation in workload and health between discrete groups. Based on these results workload variation and activity patterns have been found to be relatable to local food production activities and social circumstances of particular groups. Finally, the combined analyses presented in this dissertation have provided a firm basis for reconstructing past lifeways of these populations by presenting a more thorough understanding of diet, health and group activities. In addition, this assessment provides a foundation for future research in these areas, which will continue to contribute to our knowledge of the ancient communities of this region.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available