Stable isotope evidence for dietary diversification in the pre-Columbian Amazon

A.C. Colonese, R. Winter, R. Brandi, T. Fossile, R. Fernandes, S. Soncin, K. McGrath, M. Von Tersch, A.M. Bandeira

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

6 Citations (Web of Science)


Archaeological research is radically transforming the view that the Amazon basin and surrounding areas witnessed limited societal development before European contact. Nevertheless, uncertainty remains on the nature of the subsistence systems and the role that aquatic resources, terrestrial mammalian game, and plants had in supporting population growth, geographic dispersal, cultural adaptations and political complexity during the later stages of the pre-Columbian era. This is exacerbated by the general paucity of archaeological human remains enabling individual dietary reconstructions. Here we use stable carbon and nitrogen isotope analysis of bone collagen to reconstruct the diets of human individuals from São Luís Island (Brazilian Amazon coast) dated between ca. 1800 and 1000 cal BP and associated with distinct ceramic traditions. We expanded our analysis to include previously published data from Maracá and Marajó Island, in the eastern Amazon. Quantitative estimates of the caloric contributions from food groups and their relative nutrients using a Bayesian Mixing Model revealed distinct subsistence strategies, consisting predominantly of plants and terrestrial mammals and variably complemented with aquatic resources. This study offers novel quantitative information on the extent distinct food categories of polyculture agroforestry systems fulfilled the caloric and protein requirements of Late Holocene pre-Columbian populations in the Amazon basin.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages11
JournalScientific Reports
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2020


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