Diet reconstructed from an analysis of plant microfossils in human dental calculus from the Bronze Age site of Shilinggang, southwestern China

Publication date: July 2017Source:Journal of Archaeological Science, Volume 83
Author(s): Naimeng Zhang, Guanghui Dong, Xiaoyan Yang, Xinxin Zuo, Lihong Kang, Lele Ren, Honggao Liu, Hu Li, Rui Min, Xu Liu, Dongju Zhang, Fahu Chen
The extracted microfossils from the dental calculus of ancient teeth are a new form of archaeological evidence which can provide direct information on the plant diet of a population. Here, we present the results of analyses of starch grains and phytoliths trapped in the dental calculus of humans who occupied the Bronze Age site of Shilinggang (∼2500 cal yr BP) in Yunnan Province, southwestern China. The results demonstrate that the inhabitants consumed a wide range of plants, including rice, millet, and palms, together with other food plants which have not previously been detected in Yunnan. The discovery of various underground storage organs (USOs; tubers, roots, bulbs, and rhizomes) and acorns complements the application of conventional macrofossil and isotope studies to understand the diet of the Bronze Age human population of Yunnan. The wide variety of plant foods consumed suggests that the inhabitants adopted a broad-spectrum strategy of gathering food and cultivating crops in northwest Yunnan Province in the late Bronze Age at a time when agricultural societies were developed in the central plains of China.