Volume 56, Number 4, August 2015
Superior in Life—Superior in Death Dietary Distinction of Central European Prehistoric and Medieval Elites Corina Knipper, Petra Held, Marc Fecher, Nicole Nicklisch, Christian Meyer, Hildrun Schreiber, Bernd Zich, Carola Metzner-Nebelsick, Vera Hubensack, Leif Hansen, Elke Nieveler, and Kurt W. Alt Curt Engelhorn Centre Archaeometry gGmbH, D6, 3, 68159 Mannheim, Germany ([email protected]
de) (Knipper)/Soil Sciences, Department of Geography, Johannes Gutenberg-University Mainz, Johann-JoachimBecher-Weg 21, 55099 Mainz, Germany (Held)/Institute of Anthropology, University of Mainz, Colonel-KleinmannWeg 2, 55128 Mainz, Germany (Fecher and Schreiber)/State Ofﬁce for Heritage Management and Archaeology SaxonyAnhalt and State Museum of Prehistory, Richard-WagnerStraße 9, 06114 Halle (Saale), Germany (Nicklisch, Meyer, Zich, and Alt)/Department of Cultural Sciences and Archaeology, Ludwig-Maximilians-University Munich, GeschwisterScholl-Platz 1, 80539 Munich, Germany (Metzner-Nebelsick)/ State Ofﬁce for Archaeology Saxony, Zur Wetterwarte 7, 01099 Dresden, Germany (Hubensack)/State Ofﬁce for Cultural Heritage Baden-Wuerttemberg, Referat 85, Berliner Straße 12, 73728 Esslingen, Germany (Hansen)/LVR-LandesMuseum Bonn, Rheinisches Landesmuseum für Archäologie, Kunst und Kulturgeschichte, Colmantstraße 14–16, 53115 Bonn, Germany (Nieveler)/Center for Natural and Cultural History of the Teeth, Danube Private University, Steiner Landstraße 124, 3500 Krems, Austria (Alt and Nicklisch)/Institute for Prehistory and Archaeological Science, Basel University, Spalenring 145, 4055 Basel, Switzerland (Alt). This paper was submitted 20 VII 14, accepted 24 XI 14, and electronically published 25 VI 15. CA1 Online-Only Material: Table S1
Food production provoked social inequality in agricultural societies. Starting in the European late Neolithic, conspicuously equipped inhumations with elaborate grave architecture indicated representatives of local and possibly regional elites. However, burials are always shaped by a complex combination of the desires of the deceased and of the bereaved, along with ritual customs and norms. Therefore, a superior burial may not always be preceded by long-term superior life conditions. One widely accepted characteristic of social distinction is access to different, supposedly higher-quality food, which is deducible from light stable isotope analysis of carbon and nitrogen in bone collagen (d13C and d15N). Four remarkable cases of high-elite individuals from the modern territory of Germany q 2015 by The Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research. All rights reserved. 0011-3204/2015/5604-0006$10.00. DOI: 10.1086 /682083
spanning from the Early Bronze Age to Medieval times exhibited d15N values that exceeded those of contemporaneous “commoner” populations signiﬁcantly. This demonstrates outstanding dietary compositions, including larger shares of meat and dairy products but also possibly ﬁsh, poultry, and the meat of young animals. The results support enduringly different lifestyles and privileges for the representatives of the respective highest social class, despite very different prehistoric and historic contexts.
Food is a precondition of human existence. In wild food economies, which prevailed during most of prehistory, variable food sources were relatively equally available to each member of a group, despite individual abilities and preferences. This changed dramatically and enduringly when permanent settlements emerged and a food production system developed. The improved accessibility of food led not only to an increase in fertility and population growth (BocquetAppel and Bar-Yosef 2008) but also to economic and status differences. In Central Europe, social elites became archaeologically visible at the end of the Neolithic. Starting in the Early Bronze Age, monumental mounds demonstrated communal efforts in commemoration of single persons, and prestigious grave goods attested to prosperity in life. High-status burials as such are an important part of the archaeological record and raise questions about the extent and persistence of distinctions between the “ordinary” populations and local or regional elites, although they occurred in different social systems whose characteristics are often debated (Eggert 1999). Considerations about mortuary remains are warranted because burial practice reﬂects a culturally distinct form of social behavior. Their ultimate appearance is often a complex combination of ritual customs and norms as well as the inﬂuences of the deceased and the social group conducting the burial ritual. A long-term characteristic of high social status may be access to rare or different, presumably high-quality, foodstuffs. Analytically, dietary distinction is deducible from stable isotope analyses of carbon (d13C) and nitrogen (d15N) in bone collagen, which is primarily built from dietary protein (Ambrose 1993; Katzenberg 2008). Human bone collagen has turnover rates of between 1.5% and 4.0% per year so that, for instance, a sample from the femur of an adult individual reﬂects dietary intake over much longer than 10 years (Hedges et al. 2007). Major differences in carbon isotopes occur between C3 and C4 plants and between terrestrial and marine food sources. Moreover, variant humidity levels and forest coverage cause smaller variations (Drucker et al. 2008). The heavier isotope of nitrogen (15N) enriches along the food chain, leading to signiﬁcantly higher d15N values in carnivores than in herbivores (Hedges and Reynard 2007). Nitrogen isotopes also distinguish marine and terrestrial food sources and reﬂect land management strategies, including fertilization with animal manure (Fraser et al. 2011). Even though
each speciﬁc isotope ratio can be caused by a combination of different dietary components, carbon and nitrogen isotope analysis is a robust technique for the identiﬁcation of longstanding individual variation in diet. Previous studies were able to show gradual differentiation of stable isotope data among burial communities that went along with the archaeologically perceived socioeconomic status of the deceased (cf. Le Huray and Schutkowski 2005; Quintelier et al. 2014; Yoder 2012). Here we present carbon and nitrogen isotope analyses of bone collagen from four exceptionally prominent prehistoric and medieval burials in modern-day Germany, along with contemporary human and faunal control samples (ﬁg. 1). The chosen individuals cover a time span of 3 millennia and represent the highest possible social class of their respective periods. Their outstanding position at the very top of the social
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hierarchy legitimates cross-temporal comparison. The aim of the study is to test whether these members of the highest elite beneﬁted from an exceptional diet, different from the majority of their contemporaneous nonprivileged populations.
Investigated High-Status Burials The Chieftain of Helmsdorf In the Early Bronze Age Únětice culture (2300–1550 BC), a few individuals were elaborately buried under earthen mounds, demonstrating the development of a socially stratiﬁed society (Steffen 2010; Strahm 2002). The occurrence of these mounds coincides with the ﬁrst widespread distribution of metal artifacts, attesting to extensive trade and exchange networks and revealing political and economic prominence (Hansen 2002).
Figure 1. Locations of the investigated sites within the modern territory of Germany. Graphic by C. Knipper.
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The “Chieftain of Helmsdorf ” burial in central Germany dates to the “classical phase” of the Únětice culture (1950– 1750 BC; Zich 1996). It is one of the two best-known examples of elite burials and the only one with preserved skeletal remains. The body lay on a bier (Größler 1907) that is dendrochronologically dated to 1840 5 10 BC (Becker et al. 1989). It was placed in a wooden, tentlike mortuary house and covered by layers of stones and an earthen mound 32 m in diameter and 6.5 m high. Erected in an almost stone-free environment, it required 300–400 tons of building material to be acquired from a widespread area to construct only the interior
feature of the mound. The grave contained numerous preciousmetal artifacts: among the golden objects were two pins, an arm ring, two small, spiral-shaped lock rings, and a spiral bead; a ﬂanged axe, a chisel, and a dagger blade were made of bronze (Zich 2013; ﬁg. 2A). The monumental character of the whole assembly legitimates the interpretation of it as a “chieﬂy” (Bertemes 2004) or “princely” (Zich 2004) burial that doubtless represents the top of Early Bronze Age society (Hansen 2002; Metzner-Nebelsick 2010). The rather badly preserved skeletal remains indicate a male individual of about 30–50 years. The thoracic and lumbar
Figure 2. Selection of the grave goods and furnishing of the investigated elite burials: A, Helmsdorf; B, Glauberg; C, Morken; D, Magdeburg. Pictures are not to scale. Copyright information: A, Landesamt für Denkmalpﬂege und Archäologie Sachsen-Anhalt, J. Lipták; B, Keltenwelt am Glauberg, U. Seitz-Gray; C, LVR-LandesMuseum Bonn, J. Vogel, T. Gerhards; D, Landesamt für Denkmalpﬂege und Archäologie Sachsen-Anhalt, R. Ulbrich, J. Lipták. Compilation by C. Knipper.
vertebrae exhibit degenerative alterations. Due to the conditions of preservation and recovery, indications of perimortem violence are to be considered with caution. They include a possible cut mark at the left humerus and a groove-like lesion at the eleventh thoracic vertebra, which may have resulted from a stab or arrow wound. Because the elite burial represented the only Bronze Age individual at Helmsdorf, comparative human and faunal samples were taken from the contemporaneous sites of Plötzkau (∼15 km NNE) and Röcken (∼50 km SE; Hubensack 2013; Hubensack and Metzner-Nebelsick 2013; Knipper, C., M. Fragata, N. Nicklisch, A. Siebert, A. Szécsényi-Nagy, V. Hubensack, C. Metzner-Nebelsick, H. Meller, and K. W. Alt, unpublished manuscript). Both sites are located in the Middle-Elbe-Saale region and exhibit environmental conditions comparable to Helmsdorf’s, including very fertile soils, and identical settlement and economic properties. In order to avoid bias due to age-speciﬁc diets, our sample exclusively comprises individuals older than 15 years (table S1 in the CA1 online supplement). They were recovered as single graves in rectangular pits or inhumations in settlement pits, both common burial practices for nonelite individuals of the early Bronze Age in this area. Due to the poor preservation of the skeletal remains of the Chieftain of Helmsdorf, comparisons of health status information are very limited. The Prince of the Glauberg The “Prince of the Glauberg” site in Hesse is an elite burial of the Iron Age Early La Tène period (late 5th century BC), when prominent individuals were entombed in monumental mounds and equipped with golden objects, wagons, horse gear, bronze vessels, and imported goods from Etruria and Greece (Krausse 2006). The elite burials are often found near fortiﬁed hilltop settlements, the so-called princely seats (Baitinger 2013). The Glauberg site features such a hilltop settlement and two known elite burial mounds with three inhumations, of which one (tumulus 1/grave 1) was suitable for isotope analysis (Baitinger and Pinsker 2002; Hansen and Pare 2008). This individual was entombed in a wooden burial chamber under an earthen mound surrounded by a ditch that extended into a 350-m-long “processional pathway.” The grave contained golden jewelry including a neck ring, an arm ring, two earrings, and a ﬁnger ring, as well as a bronze beak-spouted ﬂagon with traces of mead, a “leaf crown,” a ﬁgural brooch, and pieces of weaponry. The excavations furthermore revealed a life-size sandstone statue depicted with the same attire as the prince himself (ﬁg. 2B). The analyzed skeletal remains were severely fragmented and partly decayed but enabled a basic osteological assessment indicating a male individual of about 21–28 years old (Knipper et al. 2014). The comparative human samples were taken from individuals found in a ditch near tumulus 1 and in inverted conical pits at the sites of Hunzgrund and Klause II, a few
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hundred meters from the hill fort. A bioarchaeometric study, including osteological investigations, strontium and oxygen isotope analyses, and investigations of the mitochondrial DNA, indicates a high level of physical strain and variable birthplaces and argues against close maternal kinship (Knipper et al. 2014). Many of the individuals wore personal ornaments but were not equipped with additional grave goods. They also did not receive “formal” burial, as was otherwise common in the early La Tène period (Meyer et al. 2013). The artifacts conﬁrm the archaeological contemporaneity with the investigated elite burial. Comparative faunal samples come from inverted conical pits at the Klause II site, partly from the same features as the human skeletons (Knipper et al. 2014). The Prince of Morken The typical burial practice of the Merovingian Period (5th– 8th century AD) was inhumation with grave goods in large cemeteries that were organized in rows or according to supposed familial afﬁliations (Koch 1996). Occasionally, single or a few graves were spatially separated, indicating social distinctness (Böhme 1996). The burial of the “Prince of Morken” (Nordrhine-Westphalia) is part of such a small separated burial group that was contemporary with a cemetery of 478 graves 400 m away (Böhner 1958; Hinz 1969). The elite burial dates to about 600 AD and was equipped with a ﬁre-gilded riveted plate helmet, likely of Byzantine origin (Vogt 2006); a golden buckle and a dress plate with garnet inlays; a bronze bowl that was covered with textiles made of wool, linen, and cotton (an imported good; Nieveler and Stauffer 2011); a strike-a-light; and weaponry including a sword, a shield, an axe, a spear, a lance, and two knives (ﬁg. 2C). A golden coin of the Roman emperor Tiberius Constantinus was placed in the mouth of the deceased. The precious objects indicate farreaching connections to the Mediterranean and Scandinavia (Nieveler 2003). In the 10th century, a church was built on top of the grave in a way that required knowledge of the burial and the prominence of this person for generations. Therefore, the grave has played an important role in scientiﬁc discourses about early medieval nobility and the development of a legally separated upper class (Böhme 1996). The burials of the contemporary nearby cemetery presumably represent the ordinary population of the related rural community and give the exceptional opportunity to compare burial practices and living conditions of different social groups. The skeletal remains of the Prince of Morken were incompletely preserved, and only parts of the skull could be examined in greater detail. The remains point to a male individual of 40–55 years. The frontal bone exhibits a healed sharp-force injury about 4 cm in length, likely resulting from a sword blow. All nine human skeletons available from the cemetery and several faunal bones were investigated. The latter date between Roman and Medieval times and include the time period of interest here. Although the healed cranial injury of the Prince of Morken ﬁts a recently established
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pattern of higher-status individuals being more often affected by cranial injuries than lower-status individuals in the Merovingian period (Meyer, Wirth, and Alt 2014), bone preservation at this site precludes a further comparison of pathological lesions.
Queen Edith Queen Edith (910–946 AD) was the ﬁrst wife of Otto the Great, who became German king in 936 and emperor of the Holy Roman Empire in 962. Edith was the daughter of Eduard I, King of Wessex, and moved to Magdeburg in central Germany in 929, the year of her marriage to Otto. After her early death at only 36, she was ﬁrst buried in the Mauritius convent in Magdeburg, which preceded the later cathedral. Following several exhumations and reburials, her remains were entombed in a ∼70-cm-long lead cofﬁn with an inscription of the year 1510 AD. In 2008, the cofﬁn was recovered from a richly ornamented sarcophagus in the Magdeburg cathedral. The bones were highly fragmented and incomplete. This possibly resulted either from the multiple reburial events or from the bones being subject to the medieval relic trade. The skeletal remains belong to a single female individual who died at 30–40 years of age. She was nonlocal to the area, with strontium and oxygen isotope ratios being in agreement with an origin from southern England. Although conﬁrmation based on aDNA data is lacking, all characteristics point to an identiﬁcation of the bones as those of Queen Edith (Alt et al. 2012). The burials that were analyzed for comparison belong to a cemetery associated with a church that preceded the Magdeburg cathedral and lasted until the 11th century. According to 14C dates, they were entombed in the 8th–9th centuries and most likely represent the urban population. Furthermore, faunal samples from archaeological features in the town of Magdeburg dating to the 10th–12th century were included.
Methods of Analysis The determination of sex and age at death of the human individuals was based on standard methodology (Brooks and Suchey 1990; Ferembach, Schwidetzky, and Stloukal 1980; Lovejoy 1985; Lovejoy et al. 1985; Murail et al. 2005; Phenice 1969). For Queen Edith, histological thin sections of a femur (Doppler 2008) and the assessment of the translucency of a tooth root (Lamendin et al. 1992) extended these methods. Collagen extraction from bones for light stable isotope analysis followed (Knipper et al. 2013) and included surface removal, demineralization, neutralization, gelatinization, separation of the insoluble portion using Ezee-Filter separators, ultraﬁltration (cutoff 1 30 kDa), and freeze-drying. The ultraﬁltration step was omitted for the samples from Morken/ Frimmersdorf. Carbon and nitrogen contents were determined by an elemental analyzer (vario EL III, Elementar Analytical
Systems) and isotope compositions by an IsoPrime High Performance IRMS (VG Instruments). All measurements were performed in duplicates and the results reported in d-notation in per mille (‰) relative to Vienna PeeDee Belemnite (VPDB) for carbon and atmospheric nitrogen (AIR) for nitrogen. The raw data were normalized using two-point calibrations based on USGS 40 and IAEA N2 for nitrogen and IAEA CH6 and CH7 for carbon (Paul, Skrzypek, and Fórizs 2007). Measurement errors are less than 50.2‰ for nitrogen and 50.1‰ for carbon.
Dietary Characteristics of the High-Status Individuals The carbon and nitrogen isotope data of the elite individuals and the comparative human and faunal samples are presented in table S1 and ﬁgure 3 and are summarized in table 1. We assess the isotope spacing between the humans and the fauna based on averages of the most frequent domestic animals, including cattle, sheep/goats, horses, and pigs. These species occur in most assemblages and are probable contributors to the human diet. Samples of wild animals, such as red deer, roe deer, wild boar, and pike, as well as domesticates including dogs, cats, and chicken were not always available for analysis and will be considered for further comparison if present. The combined average d13C values of the domestic herbivores (cattle, sheep/goats, and horses) and omnivores (pigs) vary between 222.1 5 0.9‰ at the Glauberg and 221.0 5 0.4‰ at Plötzkau/Röcken (comparatives for Helmsdorf ) and are characteristic for feeding on C3 plants. Their mean d15N values range from 6.1 5 1.3‰ at the Glauberg to 8.8 5 2.2‰ at Magdeburg. The premedieval data are typical for archaeological herbivores from central Europe, while especially the collagen of the pigs from Magdeburg is comparatively enriched in the heavy 15N isotope (d15N p 9.8 5 0.9‰). The average nonelite human collagen d13C and d15N values are always higher than those of the domesticated animals. The mean offsets in d13C vary between 1.0‰ at Plötzkau/Röcken (d13Cnonelite p 220.0 5 0.3‰) and 3.7‰ at the Glauberg (d13Cnonelite p 218.4 5 1.0‰). The average enrichments of 15N in nonelite human collagen compared to the fauna range from 2.4‰ at Magdeburg (d15Nnonelite p 11.2 5 0.6‰) to 3.1‰ at Plötzkau/Röcken (d15Nnonelite p 10.4 5 0.5‰). All archaeologically identiﬁed elite individuals exhibited stable isotope ratios that differed substantially from the contemporary nonelite comparison groups. Most strikingly, their d15N values were the highest among each investigated assemblage of human burials. The enrichment in relation to the average nonelite human population was 2.1‰ at Helmsdorf (d15Nelite p 12.5‰) and at the Glauberg (d15Nelite p 10.8‰), 1.3‰ at Morken (d15Nelite p 11.4‰), and 1.8‰ for Queen Edith (d15N p 13.0‰). In comparison to the average domestic faunal data, the d15N values of the prestigious burials
Figure 3. Bone collagen carbon and nitrogen isotope data of the high-status inhumations, comparative human individuals, and fauna of different domestic and wild species at Helmsdorf (A), Glauberg (B), Morken (C), and Magdeburg (D). The gray dotted lines and numbers indicate the differences among the average values of the data groups. The numbers in brackets below the labels of the elite burials indicate the C and N isotope spacing between average collagen data of the domestic herbivores/pigs and the elite individuals.
219.8 218.4 222.1
2.1 3.1 5.2
... .5 .8
... 12 13 2.1 2.6 4.7
10.8 8.7 6.1
... 12 13
12.5 10.4 7.3
... .3 .4
21.4 3.7 2.3
... .6 1.3
... 1.0 .9
Glauberg (5th century BC)
.6 1.0 1.6
219.4 220.0 221.0
Note. VPDB p Vienna PeeDee Belemnite; AIR p atmospheric nitrogen. Including pigs.
d C (‰ vs. VPBD): Elite burial Nonelite burials Domestic herbivoresa Differences: D13Celite 2 common population D13Cnonelite 2 domestic herbivores D13Celite 2 domestic herbivores d15N (‰ vs. AIR): Elite burial Nonelite burials Domestic herbivoresa Differences: D15Nelite 2 common population D15Nnonelite 2 domestic herbivores D15Nelite 2 domestic herbivores
Helmsdorf (2nd millennium BC)
... 18 11
... 18 11
1.3 2.7 4.0
11.4 10.0 7.4
2.3 1.5 1.3
220.3 220.0 221.6
Average ... .2 .5
... .3 1.3
Morken (c. 600 AD)
... 9 19
... 9 19
1.8 2.4 4.2
13.0 11.2 8.8
2.4 2.1 1.7
219.4 219.0 221.2
... .5 .6
... .6 2.2
Magdeburg (Queen Edith; 910–946 AD)
... 12 17
... 12 17
Table 1. Summary of the carbon and nitrogen isotope data, including the individual measurements of the elite burials, average values of comparative human populations, averages of the domestic herbivores and pigs, as well as differences among these data groups
were higher by between 4.0‰ (Morken) and 5.2‰ (Helmsdorf ). Concerning the d13C data, the elite individuals fell into the range of the human comparative groups. In relation to the average nonelite values, their collagen was enriched in 13C by 0.6‰ at Helmsdorf (d13Celite p 219.4‰) and depleted by 1.4‰ at the Glauberg (d13Celite p 219.8‰), by 0.3‰ at Morken (d13Celite p 220.3‰), and by 0.4‰ in the case of Queen Edith (d13C p 219.4‰). In comparison to the average domestic faunal collagen, the d13C values for the elite individuals were between 1.3‰ (Morken) and 2.1‰ (the Glauberg) higher. Except for the Glauberg, all human d13C values of the elite and nonelite burials are typical for members of food chains based on C3 plants, including, for instance, cereals such as wheat and barley. At the Glauberg, higher d13C values for many of the individuals who did not receive regular burial suggest consumption of millet, a C4 plant, while the Glauberg prince lacks evidence for contribution of C4 plants to his diet (Knipper et al. 2014). Even though one should be cautious about intertemporal evaluations of food components, it is worth noting that millet was considered a substandard grain in different societies (Killgrove and Tykot 2013; Lightfoot et al., forthcoming). The consistently elevated d15N values of the high-status individuals may have been caused by a variety of factors. As nitrogen isotopes are very sensitive to trophic position, the most obvious explanation is the consumption of larger shares of animal-based food, including meat, milk and dairy products, or ﬁsh. However, the 4.0‰–5.2‰ higher d15N values of the elite humans in comparison to the contemporaneous average herbivore/omnivore collagen are at the upper limit or even beyond the typical spacing of 3‰–5‰ per trophic level (Hedges and Reynard 2007). They are, therefore, higher than to be expected for mixed diets of plant and domestic herbivore products. In some cases, they cannot even be explained by pure ﬁrst-order carnivorism. This is especially intriguing at Magdeburg, where the d15N data of Queen Edith exceeds those of a cat and two dogs. However, the apparent disagreement of the human and the faunal data are diminished, as recent controlled dietary investigations suggest larger diet-collagen offsets of about 6‰ in humans (O’Connell et al. 2012), and direct analyses of ancient crops attest to differences in the isotope ratios of human and faunal dietary sources (Vaiglova et al. 2014). Nevertheless, it is possible that elite diets included foodstuffs that differed from the average domesticated animal meat and secondary products and that were not regularly available to the ordinary populations. In Magdeburg, these could have included larger shares of pork, as the pig collagen appeared to be enriched in 15N compared to the majority of cattle, sheep, and goats. Meat of very young mammals, which is marked by the suckling effect, is a further noteworthy protein source (Jenkins et al. 2001). Moreover, poultry and eggs have to be considered, as chicken collagen revealed d15N values that are comparable with those of dogs and cats (ﬁg. 3D). In addition, the food of
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elites may have been grown on separate plots of land that were especially heavily fertilized, as manuring leads to enrichment in 15N in the soil, which is transferred to humans via the food chain (Fraser et al. 2011). Finally, ﬁsh consumption is a possible cause of the higher d15N values (Nehlich et al. 2010). Marine and freshwater ﬁsh are distinguished by their d13C values, which are higher in marine ﬁsh (approx. 215.4‰ to 213.0‰) and variable and often lower in freshwater species (approx. 228.2‰ to 220.2‰; Fuller et al. 2012). While none of our examples points to marine ﬁsh consumption, the lower-than-average d13C values of the Prince of Morken and Queen Edith especially may have resulted from freshwater ﬁsh intake. Even though there is no direct archaeological evidence for ﬁshing, such as ﬁsh hooks, Morken is situated directly at the River Erft, the contemporaneous historian Gregor von Tours (538–594 AD) mentions ﬁshing for pike and trout (Weidemann 1982), and faunal bones—at coastal sites, in particular—include evidence for ﬁsh consumption (Willemsen 2014). Particularly in the Middle Ages, ﬁsh was an important dietary component, and its consumption by the elites has previously been demonstrated (Fornaciari 2008). Meat was prohibited by the strict fasting rules of the Catholic Church for nearly half the days of the year, and ﬁsh became a highly priced and valued foodstuff that was primarily available to people of the upper social classes (Müldner and Richards 2005; Salamon et al. 2008).
Conclusions The four high-elite individuals show striking evidence of a distinctive diet during life, featuring some combination of more meat and ﬁsh and/or special types of meat. The results coincide with observations in medieval England that attest to less dependency of elite diets from socioeconomic ﬂuctuations and a greater variety of foods, including larger quantities of pork, poultry, ﬁsh, and game (Sykes 2006). Our ﬁndings support philosopher and scientiﬁc materialist Ludwig Feuerbach’s (1804–1872) famous phrase, “You are what you eat” (Feuerbach 1850 ; Ingensiep 2007). To this day, elite groups often mark themselves off by consumption of prestige foods (Anderson 2005). In culture history, unhampered access to animal proteins declines with the establishment of social elites. Economic power regulates the availability of dietary resources, and hunting becomes a privilege of sovereigns. Meat, a preferred foodstuff of the upper class, earns an exceptional position for the provision of societies (Montanari 1996). Only with industrialization and the invention of industrial conservation, secularization of meat starts in the nineteenth century (Mellinger 2000). The pronounced social distinctness of the individuals investigated here is especially important because in previous studies, archaeologically implied social differences within
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cemeteries were sometimes only weakly represented in the stable isotope data (Privat, O’Connell, and Richards 2002) or revealed gradual differentiations rather than single outliers (Jay 2006; Le Huray and Schutkowski 2005; Oelze et al. 2012; Yoder 2012). In contrast, this study investigated single individuals that formed the very summit of accumulated wealth within their time periods. Their outstanding stable isotope ratios emphasize their outstanding social positions and show that exclusive lifestyles of single individuals were a regular phenomenon in Central European (pre)history. Despite dissimilar historical contexts, the general patterns are strikingly alike over more than 3 millennia and attest to sustainably different lifestyles and long-term privileges for individuals marked as the highest elite by their own societies.
Acknowledgments We thank Nicola Silber, Willi Dindorf, and Maria Müller for technical assistance during stable isotope analysis at the Institutes of Anthropology and Organic Chemistry at the University of Mainz. Hans-Jürgen Döhle selected the faunal samples from Plötzkau, Röcken, and Magdeburg, and Elisabeth Stephan selected those from the Glauberg. This study was ﬁnancially supported by the German Research Foundation (FOR 550), hessenArchäologie, the Stiftung für Archäologie im Rheinischen Braunkohlerevier, the LVR Regionale Kulturförderung, and the State Ofﬁce for Heritage Management and Archaeology Saxony-Anhalt. We are indebted to Lynn E. Fisher for language corrections and valuable comments on the manuscript.
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