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Theses and Dissertations

Name:Liotta D. Noche-Dowdy
Professor:Erin H. Kimmerle

Multi-Isotope Analysis to Reconstruct Dietary and Migration Patterns of an Avar Population from Sajópetri, Hungary, AD 568-895


The Avar were nomadic people from Central Asia who migrated into the Carpathian Basin in Central-Eastern Europe during the mid to late Migration Period (AD 568 – 895). Archaeological evaluation of grave goods and documentation of mortuary practices have been the primary means of understanding the Avar. However, this approach has largely neglected skeletal and biochemical analysis, in particular as these approaches relate to the biological variation, ancestry, and dietary patterns of the Avar.
There remains debate as to whether disparities existed among the socially stratified Avar population of ancient Hungary. It is argued by some that these disparities existed and were the result of differential access to nutritional resources. This hypothesis was tested using the unique properties of isotopes and their chemical signatures. In so doing, the qualitative work on the grave goods was augmented by an additional, quantifiable line of evidence.
To investigate social stratification among the Avar population, the techniques of chemical multi-isotope and osteological analysis were employed. Multi-isotopic analyses can be done on stable isotopes (carbon, nitrogen, and oxygen) and on the heavy isotopes (strontium and lead). The particular stable isotopes examined were carbon, nitrogen, and oxygen. The heavy isotopes analyzed were strontium (87Sr/86Sr) and lead (206Pb/204Pb). Stable isotope analysis as well as ratio analysis of the heavy isotopes strontium (87Sr/86Sr) and lead (206Pb/204Pb) are well-established analytical chemistry methods for examining diverse aspects of diet and mobility through specific geographic regions. The analysis was performed on samples derived from well-preserved tooth enamel and bones.
Reconstructing migration and dietary patterns at the Sajópetri cemetery site has helped estimate variability among social groups and between sexes in this population at the time of the Migration Period. Results of the heavy isotope analysis revealed that the Avar population were non-locals to the region, and the stable isotope analysis demonstrated that there was little variation between social groups with slightly higher variation between sexes. This research provides an empirical and analytical framework for further research into migration patterns and social class dynamics of late prehistoric Hungry. This study also adds existing research possibilities to the on-going biogeochemical studies conducted throughout Europe.