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Carbon Isotopes and Dental Caries as Evidence for Regional Variation in the Diets of Early Farming Communities from Katanga, Democratic Republic of the Congo

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image of Journal of African Archaeology

We report on aspects of diet and subsistence patterns of late 1st and early 2nd millennium AD farmers from the Upemba Depression of Katanga, DRC, as reconstructed from stable isotopes and dental caries. While the archaeology of this region is well known from cemeteries, details of the subsistence base of these communities are not well known, because occupation sites have not yet been identified. Carbon isotope measurements show that individuals buried at Sanga ate diets rich in C4-based resources, and suffered high rates of dental caries, similar to those seen among farmers in southern Africa. People buried at Katoto consumed more C3 foods, and presented with lower caries prevalence. Their diets probably included more cucurbits, legumes and root crops. Oxygen isotopes also differ between the two sites, likely due to different sources of drinking water. Our results indicate that the crops grown and the diets consumed at Sanga and Katoto were substantially different, although the sites are only 130 km apart. The cultural differences previously noted between the two sites were underpinned by differences in subsistence economy, pointing to a higher degree of variation in these societies than previously known.

Affiliations: 1: Department of Human Biology, University of Cape Town ; 2: Department of Human Biology, University of Cape Town ; 3: Department of Archaeology, University of Cape Town


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