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

Yadira Chinique de Armas, William Pestle

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1 Citation (Scopus)

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)
JournalInternational Journal of Osteoarchaeology
DOIs
StateAccepted/In press - Jan 1 2018

Fingerprint

food
subsistence economy
Cuba
supplement
Belize
biological factors
Puerto Rico
cultural factors
economic factors
social factors
reconstruction
Group
Subsistence Strategies
Archaeology
interaction
society
Values
Food
Breast Feeding
Nitrogen Isotopes

Keywords

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

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Archaeology
  • Anthropology
  • Archaeology

Cite this

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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 (Can{\'i}mar 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.",
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