Date of Award

Spring 4-1-2012

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Matt Sponheimer

Second Advisor

Dennis Van Gerven

Third Advisor

Bert Covert

Fourth Advisor

Michelle Sauther


Stable isotopic approaches to studying childhood diet in prehistory have become common in bioarchaeology and have provided researchers with a means to reconstruct life history patterns such as weaning in past human populations. These methods, however, typically rely on isotopic patterning in bone collagen by age-at-death, and lack the resolution to reconstruct weaning in much detail, much less the process in individuals that survived childhood. In this dissertation, I refine two high-resolution intra-tooth stable isotope techniques for investigating childhood diet and the weaning process in the archaeological record; laser ablation analysis of tooth enamel, and serial micro-sampling of dentine. As these methods are relatively new, their potential relies on an understanding of how best to employ them for archaeological applications. To this end, I addressed a number of methodological issues, including sampling locations within teeth and choice of tooth type. This study was conducted on human remains from Kulubnarti, a Medieval Nubian community which provides an ideal setting for the methodological development of these techniques. This research also explores a number of potential applications to anthropological questions. The results suggest that: (1) tooth types (first molars and canines) record stable isotopic patterning differently in both enamel and dentine, (2) sampling locations within the thickness of enamel produce isotope profiles with different characteristics, (3) enamel records considerable carbon and oxygen isotopic variability, which may be used to study seasonality in water sources and agricultural practices, and perhaps seasonality of birth, (4) dentine records carbon and nitrogen isotopic variability that is likely linked to the weaning process, which can be used to compare weaning behavior between individuals that survived the process and those that did not, and (5) both dentine and enamel intra-tooth profiles may be used to study the interaction between childhood diet, the weaning process, morbidity events, and mortality.