Episode 123: How do scientists use different isotopes to explore the diets and social dynamics in prehistoric China?
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Today, Dr. Christina Cheung (Muséum National d'Histoire Naturelle) is on the show to talk all about stable isotope analyses and reconstructing what subsistence strategies ancient people were using in prehistoric China, especially around the time of the Shang Dynasty (13th to 11th century BCE).
Why is the site of Yin Xu, the capital of Shang Dynasty, so important in studies of historical China? What is the story behind the 'oracle bones' and the remains of human sacrificial victims found at this site? By sampling human and animal bone collagen to investigate stable isotope patterns, what have Chris and her colleagues discovered about who these sacrificial victims were? In order to use these biomolecular methods to understand past foodways and social dynamics, what samples are needed from a human skeleton and how does sampling from different bones influence what we know about a deceased individual's diet?
Also, what was Chris's journey into working in these areas of archaeological science? How does the site of Yin Xu, and the palaeodiets of Shang Dynasty residents and immigrants, fit into broader narratives concerning pastoralist and agricultural lifestyles throughout time and geography in China? How can this research be relevant to understanding the impacts of sudden climate change on food consumption patterns in the future?
You can find more information in the show notes under the episode on our website.
If you have feedback or questions for Chris, she is contactable via Twitter.
You can also read her two SAPIENS articles, one on the oracles bones and sacrifical victims of Yin Xu, and the other on the transition from millet-farming to wheat reliance in ancient China. All of Chris's research is available on ResearchGate and Google Scholar.
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