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High-resolution dietary reconstruction of victims of the 79 CE Vesuvius eruption at Herculaneum by compound-specific isotope analysis

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JournalScience Advances
DateAccepted/In press - 1 Jul 2021
DatePublished (current) - 25 Aug 2021
Issue number35
Volume7
Number of pages9
Original languageEnglish

Abstract

The remains of those who perished at Herculaneum in 79 CE offer a unique opportunity to examine lifeways across an ancient community who lived and died together. Historical sources often allude to differential access to foodstuffs across Roman society but provide no direct or quantitative information. By determining the stable isotope values of amino acids from bone collagen and deploying Bayesian models that incorporate knowledge of protein synthesis, we were able to reconstruct the diets of 17 adults from Herculaneum with unprecedented resolution. Significant differences in the proportions of marine and terrestrial foods consumed were observed between males and females, implying that access to food was differentiated according to gender. The approach also provided dietary data of sufficient precision for comparison with assessments of food supply to modern populations, opening up the possibility of benchmarking ancient diets against contemporary settings where the consequences for health are better understood.

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