Grim up North? Exploring the diet of urban populations in post-medieval Greater Manchester, England, using stable isotope analysis

Blessing Chidimuro*, Malin Holst, Sophie Newman, Katie Keefe, Matthew James Collins, Michelle Marie Alexander

*Corresponding author for this work

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Historical evidence suggests that social status played a major role in all aspects of society in eighteenth–nineteenth century England. We present an insight into how socioeconomic status affected the dietary habits of two post-medieval urban populations from Greater Manchester, northwest England. Stable carbon (δ13C) and nitrogen (δ15N) isotope ratios were measured in humans from Cross Street Unitarian Chapel (middle class: n = 90) in Manchester city centre and Chapel Street, Hazel Grove (lower status with few middle-class individuals: n = 34). A large sample of 111 faunal remains from Cross Street (n = 37) and Norton Priory, Cheshire (n = 74), provide an animal baseline, dramatically expanding the post-medieval animal isotopic dataset for England. Sheep from Norton Priory show high δ15N isotope values indicative of saltmarsh grazing. Results for human populations revealed a mixed diet of plant and animal protein from C3 terrestrial environments with some potential contribution of aquatic protein. Significant differences revealed between the two populations indicate unequal access to food by status. Intra-population variation at Hazel Grove suggests dietary distinctions by age and sex. Non-adults consumed diets poor in high trophic level protein, whereas adult males consumed greater amounts of animal products. Conversely, the data suggests that at the wealthier Cross Street, there was greater access to high trophic level protein by all. Comparisons between the Manchester populations and those from similar socioeconomic classes from the Midlands and southern England, including London, reveal a bioarchaeological picture of dietary diversity and differential access to resources which impact significantly on well-being during this tumultuous period of industrial England.
Original languageEnglish
Article number174
Number of pages19
JournalArchaeological and Anthropological Sciences
Publication statusPublished - 31 Oct 2023

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