Assessing the association between subsistence strategies and the timing of weaning among indigenous archaeological populations of the Caribbean

Yadira Chinique de Armas, William Pestle

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

3 Scopus citations

Abstract

Human breastfeeding is a biocultural process shaped by the interaction of numerous biological, cultural, economic, and social factors. Although previous studies have found that a society's subsistence economy alone does not determine weaning timing, subsistence may still have a profound effect on weaning food choices. This paper analyses nitrogen and carbon stable isotopes in bone collagen and apatite of individuals from six precolonial Caribbean sites grouped into four subsistence categories: Hunter-Fisher-Gatherers (Cueva del Perico I and Cueva Calero, Cuba), Horticulturalists (Canímar Abajo, Cuba), Agriculturalists from the Antilles (Paso del Indio, Puerto Rico), and Agriculturalists of Mesoamerica (Marco Gonzalez and San Pedro, Belize) in order to explore how subsistence economy affected the different groups' breastfeeding and weaning practices. Ages for the start and the end of weaning, and the isotopic characteristics of possible food sources used as supplements during the weaning process, were assessed using the Bayesian probability model “Weaning Age Reconstruction with Nitrogen isotopes.” Model results indicate (a) a major dietary change around 2 years of age for most of the study populations, (b) that supplements seem to have been introduced into nonadults diet at earlier ages than has been observed in ethnographic populations of the area, (c) no direct correlation between the start of weaning and the availability of cultigens, but (d) that groups that had access to cultigens would appear to have weaned their children using foods with lower nitrogen isotope values, suggesting that plants (likely domesticates) may have had an important role as weaning foods.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)492-509
Number of pages18
JournalInternational Journal of Osteoarchaeology
Volume28
Issue number5
DOIs
StatePublished - Sep 1 2018

Keywords

  • Caribbean
  • breastfeeding
  • cross-cultural studies
  • infant nutrition
  • weaning
  • weaning foods

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Archaeology
  • Anthropology
  • Archaeology

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