Change of Diet of the Greenland Vikings Determined from Stable Carbon Isotope Analysis and 14C Dating of Their Bones
Nielsen, Henrik L.
Sveinbjörnsdóttir, Árny E.
C 13 C 12
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CitationArneborg, J., Heinemeier, J., Lynnerup, N., Nielsen, H. L., Rud, N., & Sveinbjörnsdóttir, Á. E. (1999). Change of diet of the Greenland Vikings determined from stable carbon isotope analysis and 14C dating of their bones. Radiocarbon, 41(2), 157-168.
AbstractBone samples from the Greenland Viking colony provide us with a unique opportunity to test and use 14C dating of remains of humans who depended upon food of mixed marine and terrestrial origin. We investigated the skeletons of 27 Greenland Norse people excavated from churchyard burials from the late 10th to the middle 15th century. The stable carbon isotopic composition (delta-13C) of the bone collagen reveals that the diet of the Greenland Norse changed dramatically from predominantly terrestrial food at the time of Eric the Red around AD 1000 to predominantly marine food toward the end of the settlement period around AD 1450. We find that it is possible to 14C-date these bones of mixed marine and terrestrial origin precisely when proper correction for the marine reservoir effect (the 14C age difference between terrestrial and marine organisms) is taken into account. From the dietary information obtained via the delta-13C values of the bones we have calculated individual reservoir age corrections for the measured 14C ages of each skeleton. The reservoir age corrections were calibrated by comparing the 14C dates of 3 highly marine skeletons with the 14C dates of their terrestrial grave clothes. The calibrated ages of all 27 skeletons from different parts of the Norse settlement obtained by this method are found to be consistent with available historical and archaeological chronology. The evidence for a change in subsistence from terrestrial to marine food is an important clue to the old puzzle of the disappearance of the Greenland Norse, obtained here for the first time by measurements on the remains of the people themselves instead of by more indirect methods like kitchen-midden analysis.
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On Correcting 14C Ages of Gastropod Shell Carbonate for FractionationPigati, Jeffrey S. (Department of Geosciences, The University of Arizona, 2002-01-01)Correcting the 14C age of a sample for fractionation is straightforward if the measured carbon was derived entirely from the atmosphere, either directly or through chemical and/or biological reactions that originated with atmospheric carbon. This correction is complicated in the case of gastropods that incorporate carbon from limestone or secondary carbonate (e.g. Soil carbonate) during shell formation. The carbon isotopic composition of such gastropod shells is determined by fractionation, as well as mixing of carbon from sources with different isotopic values. Only the component of shell carbonate derived from atmospheric carbon should be corrected for fractionation. In this paper, the author derives a new expression for correcting the measured 14C activity of gastropod shells for fractionation, and describe an iterative approach that allows the corrected 14C activity and the fraction of shell carbonate derived from atmospheric carbon to be determined simultaneously.
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