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Taphonomic and methodological problems in reconstructing prehistoric diet from ancient human gut and faecal remains

Holden, TG; (1990) Taphonomic and methodological problems in reconstructing prehistoric diet from ancient human gut and faecal remains. Doctoral thesis (Ph.D), UCL (University College London). Green open access

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Abstract

The study of ancient human gut and faecal residues can provide some of the most reliable data relating to past diet. However, as with other forms of archaeological data it suffers from serious taphonomic bias, with some classes of food being well represented and others only poorly. This project attempts to identify more clearly where some of these biases lie, particularly with respect to the matter of differential digestion. In order to achieve this, a series of experiments relating to diges¬tion in modern humans and the survival of different food items through the digestive tract, have been carried out. The knowledge gained during this study of modern material has then been applied to three separate classes of ancient human gut and faecal remains:- a) desiccated human gut contents from a number of loca- 1 tions in South America; b) waterlogged human gut contents from a number of European bog bodies; c) discrete, desiccated human palaeofaeces (coprolites) recovered from midden on the Northern Chilean site of Tulan 54. The food debris from these samples have been accurately identified and quantified and interpretations made regarding past dietary practices. In the case of the coprolites from Tulan, North Chile, it has also proved possible to compare and contrast the data recovered from coprolite material with both biological material recovered by flotation from the midden itself, and, the gut contents of two well preserved human bodies from an associated cemetery. It has therefore been possible to comment upon the advantages and deficiencies of each class of

Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Qualification: Ph.D
Title: Taphonomic and methodological problems in reconstructing prehistoric diet from ancient human gut and faecal remains
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
Language: English
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/10123919
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