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This article presents new information regarding new ways to chemically analyze bones to determine which types of foods were most important to different groups of prehistoric people from sites across Wisconsin, dating from the Late Archaic to the Mississippian time. In this article, it explains how using carbon isotope analysis and trace element analysis can determine differences in diets. Both of these methods may still be in the developmental stage, but from the initial research presented in this article, we can tell that once these methods become more refined, they will be very helpful for future analysis of the diets of prehistoric people, and determining past subsistence practices.
The carbon isotope analysis of the bones is used to determine the importance of certain plants and marine organisms in prehistoric diets. This is done by measuring different levels of carbon isotopes found in the bone, and correlating them with different plants and animals that have matching or similar levels of the specific isotopes.
The trace element analysis measures the levels of specific elements found in the bone, the most helpful of these elements found for determining diet were strontium and calcium, and their relation to each other, and how the levels of each element change, based on the type of diet consumed. For example, carnivores display a very low strontium level, while herbivores will display a very high strontium level, and omnivores will have have concentrations somewhere in the middle of those of the carnivores and herbivores.
Both of these types of analyses have been applied to prehistoric sites throughout Wisconsin. The article goes into detail about the specific findings, but a few of the conclusions determined I will lay out below.