Diet, sex, and social status in the Late Avar period: stable isotope investigations at Nuštar cemetery, Croatia

15 Jun 2018

Diet often plays a vital role in defining social divisions within and between social groups and thus can be used to understand the social paradigms of archaeological cultures. During the Early Avar period (568 – 630 A.D.), burial evidence indicates that there were strong demarcations of social stratification, and divisions between sexes and age groups; however, the symbols of intra-population heterogeneity become increasingly rare during the Late Avar period (680 – 822 A.D.). In this study, we investigate social differences expressed through diet in the cemetery population from Nuštar, eastern Croatia (8th to early 9th century), to determine whether dietary social disparities existed during the Late Avar period in this region. Stable isotope analysis of carbon (δ13C) and nitrogen (δ15N) from bone and dentine collagen show no dietary differences, neither between high, middle and low status individuals, nor between males, females and juveniles. These results likely reflect the outcome of the social homogenization process that began after the failed Avar attack on Constantinople in 626 A.D. Geographical patterning is visible when the data from Nuštar is compared to data from other Middle and Late Avar sites. While Avar sites in the southern and south-eastern frontiers of the Avar qaganate do not display dietary differences between sexes, previous isotopic work on populations in Lower Austria show that males consumed a higher proportion of animal protein than females. This is likely the result of Frankish influence and reflects diversity in social practices within the Avar qaganate itself during the Middle and Late Avar periods.