Nutrition and Inequality in the Early Middle Ages

Research project T5_3

This project aims to detect inequality on the basis of food reconstruction. In the investigation, the diet of 100 individuals from two early medieval cemeteries (5th-8th century AD), located in the area of the northern Upper Rhine (Dirmstein, Eppstein), will be reconstructed by means of nitrogen and carbon isotope analyses on human bone and dentine collagen. The analysis of one tooth as well as one bone per individual enables insights into the nutrition during a certain period of time in childhood and, depending on the age of death of the individual, into the last decades of the person’s life. The comparison of the nitrogen isotope ratios of humans with those of animal bone remains found as original food supplements in the graves facilitates the reconstruction of the trophic level of humans and thus the proportion of animal protein in their diets.
In addition, the carbon isotope ratios of human remains provide information about the plant proteins in food, such as the proportion of C3 (e.g. wheat and barley) and C4 crops (e.g. millet). The results of the food reconstructions will be evaluated in combination with information on the age and sex of the individuals as well as their grave goods and constructions (e.g. burial mounds with circular ditches), which can provide information on social status.
Furthermore, strontium and oxygen isotope analyses, which have already been carried out and which provide information about the mobility of a person, are included in the evaluation. This interdisciplinary approach thus makes it possible to relate differences in nutrition to specific categories, such as origin, age, gender and status, and thus to investigate social inequality in a time of political and social upheaval.

Project by Christine Winter-Schuh
and Ralph Großmann


Fieldwork + Activities


Participating Institutions