Department of Archaeology, University of York, YO1 7EP, UK.
*Corresponding author: firstname.lastname@example.org
Cite this as: Brown, C. and Alexander, M. (2016) Hair as a Window on Diet and Health in Post-Medieval London: an isotopic analysis, Internet Archaeology 42. http://dx.doi.org/10.11141/ia.42.6.12
Attitudes to hair in 19th-century society support interpretations on the role of hair as a social and political tool, through the manipulation of personal appearance and the process of acquisition of hair itself (Ashby 2014). Hair was a significant symbol of 'consumer culture', used to express individual power and identity. Human hair was utilised for jewellery, wigs and hairpieces, becoming a valuable commodity in Britain (Miller 1982; Ofek 2009; Lutz 2011). Scientific analysis of the material of hair itself, however, unlocks information that can shed further light on sociocultural interaction, giving information on food procurement and consumption (DeNiro and Schoeniger 1983).
Isotopic analysis of bone for dietary reconstruction has been routinely practised in archaeology since the 1970s (Vogel and Van der Merwe 1977) and provides a long-term average of the diet over the last 10-30 years before death (Hedges et al. 2007). Unlike bone, however, hair grows incrementally (~1cm a month for human hair), providing time series information, and offering a valuable window on diet during the final months before death (White 1993; Kutschera and Müller 2003; Wilson et al. 2007; see Wilson, this issue). Despite this, hair has received comparatively little attention, primarily owing to its poor preservation on archaeological sites, mummies being an exception (see Wilson, this issue). Post-medieval remains, however, present an ideal case study, often being well preserved and possessing biographical data giving additional context. This short article presents a study of incremental analysis of carbon (δ13C) and nitrogen (δ15N) isotopes from hair sampled from a 19th-century individual, 'Elizabeth Robinson' (skeleton 48, Figure 1) deriving from an assemblage from St Barnabas church, West Kensington, where 55/58 burials had name plates and recorded dates of birth and death. She lived between 1768 and 1840, and died at 72 years of age. The research forms part of a wider project on post-medieval diets (Brown 2014).
The hair underwent a 3-phase preparation following published methods (Tankersley and Koster 2009; Williams and Katzenberg 2012; Beaumont et al. 2013). The hair was soaked twice in a solution of 7 parts Dichloromethane to 1 part Methyl alcohol, to remove contaminants and lipids. It was then rinsed three times with ultrapure water and dried at 40°C for 48 hours. Lastly, the hair was cut into 1.5cm increments from root to tip, and 1mg aliquots of each increment were analysed in duplicate by elemental analysis/isotope ratio mass spectrometry (EA/IRMS, Sercon, Crewe, UK) at the University of York. Analytical error calculated from repeated measurement of an internal standard was <0.2 ‰ (1σ).
|Increment||δ13C (‰)||δ15N (‰)|
Table 1 presents the carbon and nitrogen isotopic results of the work; these are plotted in Figure 2, and summary statistics are provided in Table 2. The values are suggestive of a C3 terrestrial-based diet, with a substantial input of animal protein (meat, dairy etc.), but little in the way of marine fish or C4 plants (maize). There is a wider range in δ15N (2.1 ‰) compared to δ13C (0.5 ‰) values for hair, and what is striking here is the marked increase in δ15N values during the most recent growth phases before death, while δ13C values show little variation.
A fluctuation in δ15N values accompanied by a similar variation in δ13C values is suggestive of dietary change (O'Connell and Hedges 1999; Williams and Katzenberg 2012). However, 15N-enrichment alone more likely reflects extreme physiological stress. Isotopic behaviour of this kind is consistent with the nutritional deprivation demonstrated by anorexia nervosa patients (Mekota et al. 2006) and pregnant women with acute morning sickness (Fuller et al. 2004). It has also been reported for famine sufferers identified in post-medieval populations from London (Beaumont et al. 2013). This phenomenon may therefore be an indication of nutritional and physiological stress before death, perhaps due to serious illness.
|Site||n||Mean δ13C (‰, 1σ)||Min (‰)||Max (‰)||Mean δ15N (‰, 1σ)||Min (‰)||Max (‰)|
|Barnabas||1||-19.1 ± 0.2||-19.4||-18.9||11.2 ± 0.7||10.6||12.8|
|Lukin street||6||-19.3 ± 1.2||-20.5||-17.0||11.5 ± 0.5||11.0||12.3|
|Spitalfields||17||-19.4 �� 0.6||-20.3||-18.0||11.1 ± 0.8||10.2||12.5|
|St.Martin's||30||-19.7 ± 0.6||-23.1||-18.4||11.1 ± 0.8||7.8||13.0|
The bone collagen isotope values for this individual were -18.1 ‰ for δ13C and 13.55 ‰ for δ15N (Brown 2014), showing higher δ15N and δ13C values compared to keratin, and which is in keeping with an anticipated isotopic offset between the two tissues (O'Connell et al. 2001), although the difference in nitrogen is large (2.3 ‰). The hair data may indicate a change to a diet with lower δ15N values later in life. This may suggest less animal protein was consumed, perhaps pointing to declining health. A similar finding was reported for a possible 19th-century migrant in from Lukin Street, London (Beaumont et al. 2013).
Placing the St Barnabas individual in a wider context, the mean hair isotopic values are compared with published values in Table 2 and Figure 3. The area of Chelsea around St Barnabas church is well known for being an affluent area (Shepherd et al. 1974). Elizabeth Robinson plots most closely to populations from the two other London sites (Lukin Street and Spitalfields), but these populations were likely of lower socioeconomic status, Lukin Street being a workhouse and Spitalfields considered middle class (Molleson and Cox 1993). The Barnabas individual fits into a growing isotopic dataset for the post-medieval period that suggests that higher δ15N values do not always correlate with socioeconomic status as they often do for earlier time periods (e.g. Le Huray and Schutkowski 2005 for the prehistoric period; Reitsema and Vercellotti 2012 for the Middle Ages), but instead appear to be linked with city living (Beaumont et al. 2013). This may result from manuring around human settlements and particularly the use of night soil (Shearer et al. 1983; Bogaard et al. 2007; Beaumont et al. 2013). This supports current theories that elevated nitrogen isotopic signals may result from continued activity on the land, and may distinguish between urban and rural sites (Nardoto et al. 2006; Commisso and Nelson 2010; Beaumont et al. 2013).
The exceptional advantage of multiple-tissue isotopic analysis is the potential for increased depth of study on an individual level. The utilisation of scientific data alongside historical documentation provides a window into past lives otherwise lost in generalist recording systems, and the addition of hair analysis allows for an extended historical biography to be constructed up to the months before death. In this example, biological markers suggesting chronic disease have been detected, allowing us to infer dietary change over the individual's lifecourse, showcasing the great potential for incremental isotopic analysis of hair in illuminating past lives.
Ashby, S. 2014 A Viking Way of Life, Stroud: Amberley.
Beaumont, J., Geber, J., Powers, N., Wilson, A., Lee-Thorp, J. and Montgomery, J. 2013 'Victims and survivors: stable isotopes used to identify migrants from the great Irish famine to 19th century London', American Journal of Physical Anthropology 150. 87-98. http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/ajpa.22179
Bogaard, A., Heaton, T.H., Poulton, P. and Merbach, I. 2007 'The impact of manuring on nitrogen isotope ratios in cereals: archaeological implications for reconstruction of diet and crop management practices', Journal of Archaeological Science 34(3). 335-343. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jas.2006.04.009
Brown, C. 2014 North and South: The isotopic analysis of four body tissues assessed alongside historical sources to reconstruct a comparative palaeodietary analysis of two post-medieval sites, Unpublished MSc thesis, University of York.
Commisso, R.G. and Nelson, D.E. 2010 'Stable nitrogen isotopic examination of Norse sites in the Western settlement of Greenland', Journal of Archaeological Science 37(6). 1233-1240. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jas.2009.12.023
DeNiro, M.J. and Schoeniger, M.J. 1983 'Stable Carbon and Nitrogen isotope ratios of bone collagen: variations within individuals, between sexes and within populations raised on monotonous diets', Journal of Archaeological Science 10. 199-203. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/0305-4403(83)90002-X
Fuller, B.T., Fuller, J.L., Sage, N.E., Harris, D.A., O'Connell, T.C. and Hedges, R.E. 2004 'Nitrogen balance and δ15N: why you're not what you eat during pregnancy', Rapid Communications in Mass Spectrometry 18(23). 2889-2896. http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/rcm.1708
Hedges, R.E., Clement, J.G., Thomas, C.D.L. and O'Connell, T.C. 2007 'Collagen turnover in the adult femoral mid-shaft: Modeled from anthropogenic radiocarbon tracer measurements', American Journal of Physical Anthropology 133(2). 808-816. http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/ajpa.20598
Le Huray, J. D. and Schutkowski, H. 2005 'Diet and social status during the La Tène period in Bohemia: carbon and nitrogen stable isotope analysis of bone collagen from Kutná Hora-Karlov and Radovesice', Journal of Anthropological Archaeology 24(2). 135-147. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jaa.2004.09.002
Kutschera, W. and Müller, W. 2003 ''Isotope language' of the Alpine Iceman investigated with AMS and MS', Nuclear Instruments and Methods in Physics Research (B) 204. 705-779. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/S0168-583X(03)00491-9
Lutz, D. 2011 'The dead still among us: Victorian secular relics, hair jewelry, and death culture', Victorian Literature and Culture 39(1). 127-142. http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/S1060150310000306
Mekota, A.M., Grupe, G., Ufer, S. and Cuntz, U. 2006 'Serial analysis of stable nitrogen and carbon isotopes in hair: monitoring starvation and recovery phases of patients suffering from anorexia nervosa', Rapid Communications in Mass Spectrometry 20(10). 1604-1610. http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/rcm.2477
Miller, P. 1982 'Hair jewelry as fetish', in R.B. Browne (ed.) Objects of Special Devotion: Fetishes and Fetishism in Popular Culture, Bowling Green, OH: Popular Press. 89-106.
Molleson, T. and Cox, M. 1993 The Spitalfields Project. Volume 2 — The Anthropology: The Middling Sort. CBA Research Report 86, York: Council for British Archaeology. http://dx.doi.org/10.5284/1000332
Nardoto, G.B., Silva, S., Kendall, C., Ehlerinder, J.R., Chesson, L.A., Ferraz, E.S.B., Moreira, M.Z., Omettos, J.P.H.B. and Martinelli, L.A. 2006 'Geographical patterns of human diet derived from stable-isotope analysis of fingernails', American Journal of Physical Anthropology 131. 137-146. http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/ajpa.20409
O'Connell, T.C. and Hedges, R.E.M., 1999. 'Isotopic comparison of hair and bone: archaeological analyses', Journal of Archaeological Science 26(6). 661-665. http://dx.doi.org/10.1006/jasc.1998.0383
O'Connell, T.C., Hedges, R.E., Healey, M.A. and Simpson, A.H.R.W. 2001 'Isotopic comparison of hair, nail and bone: modern analyses', Journal of Archaeological Science 28(11). 1247-1255. http://dx.doi.org/10.1006/jasc.2001.0698
Ofek, G. 2009 Representations of Hair in Victorian Literature and Culture, Farnham: Ashgate.
Reitsema, L.J. and Vercellotti, G. 2012 'Stable isotope evidence for sex- and status-based variations in diet and life history at medieval Trino Vercellese, Italy', American Journal of Physical Anthropology 148(4). 589-600. http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/ajpa.22085
Richards, M. 2006 'Palaeodietary reconstruction' in M. Brickley, S. Buteaux, J. Adams and R. Cherrington (eds) St Martin's Uncovered: Investigations in the Churchyard of St Martin's-in-the-Bull Ring, Birmingham 2001, Oxford: Oxbow Books. 147-151.
Shearer, G., Kohl, D.H., Virginia, R., Bryan, B.A., Skeeters, J.L., Nilsen, E.T., Sharifi, M.R. and Rundel, P.W. 1983 'Estimates of N2-fixation from variation in the natural abundance of 15N in Sonoran Desert ecosystems', Oecologia 56 (2-3). 365-373. http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/BF00379714
Shepherd, J., Westway, J. and Lee, T. 1974 A Social Atlas of London, London: Clarendon Press.
Tankersley, K.B. and Koster, J.M. 2009 'Sources of stable isotope variation in archaeological dog remains', North American Archaeologist 30(4). 361-375. http://dx.doi.org/10.2190/NA.30.4.b
Vogel, J. C. and Van der Merwe, N.J. 1977 'Isotopic evidence for early maize cultivation in New York State', American Antiquity 42. 238-242. http://dx.doi.org/10.2307/278984
White, C.D. 1993. 'Isotopic determination of seasonality in diet and death from Nubian mummy hair', Journal of Archaeological Science 20. 657-666. http://dx.doi.org/10.1006/jasc.1993.1040
Williams, J.S. and Katzenberg, M.A. 2012 'Seasonal fluctuations in diet and death during the late horizon: a stable isotopic analysis of hair and nail from the central coast of Peru', Journal of Archaeological Science 39(1). 41-57. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jas.2011.07.013
Wilson, A.S. 2008 'The hair', in J.I. Mckinley (ed.), The 18th-century Baptist Chapel and Burial Ground at West Butts Street, Poole, Salisbury: Wessex Archaeology. 49.
Wilson, A.S, Taylor, T., Ceruti, M.C., Chavez, J.A., Reinhard, J., Grimes, V., Meier-Augenstein, W., Cartmell, L., Stern, B., Richards, M.P., Worobey, M., Barnes, I. and Gilbert, M.T.P. 2007 'Stable isotope and DNA evidence for ritual sequences in Inca child sacrifice', Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 104(42). 16456-16461. http://dx.doi.org/10.1073/pnas.0704276104
|http://20mg-cheapesttadalafil.com/ - 20mg-cheapesttadalafil.com.ankor 20mg-cheapesttadalafil.com.ankor http://20mg-cheapesttadalafil.com/||
|http://20mg-cheapesttadalafil.com/ - 20mg-cheapesttadalafil.com.ankor 20mg-cheapesttadalafil.com.ankor http://20mg-cheapesttadalafil.com/||
Internet Archaeology is an open access journal. Except where otherwise noted, content from this work may be used under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 (CC BY) Unported licence, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided that attribution to the author(s), the title of the work, the Internet Archaeology journal and the relevant URL/DOI are given.