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Journal Article

Medieval and early modern diets in the Polack region of Belarus: A stable isotope perspective


Lucas,  Mary
Department of Archaeology, Max Planck Institute of Geoanthropology, Max Planck Society;


Roberts,  Patrick
isoTROPIC Independent Research Group, Max Planck Institute of Geoanthropology, Max Planck Society;

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Haponava, V., Kots, A., Lucas, M., Both, M., & Roberts, P. (2022). Medieval and early modern diets in the Polack region of Belarus: A stable isotope perspective. PLoS One, 17(10): e0275758. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0275758.

Cite as: https://hdl.handle.net/21.11116/0000-000B-486C-C
In western and north-western Europe there has been a growing focus on exploring how major economic, political, and social changes during the Medieval period impacted the lived experience of different populations and sectors of society. Stable isotope analysis has proven particularly powerful in this regard, providing direct insights into the long-term diets of individuals and communities. Despite experiencing similarly dramatic social reconfigurations and changes, eastern Europe has, however, received far less attention in this regard. The territory of Belarus has, especially, so far remained a relative blank spot on the bioarchaeological map of Europe, though cities such as Polack emerged rapidly as key nodes within a growing economic and religious network. To gain direct insight into the diets of inhabitants of the Polack region of Belarus in the 11-18th centuries, we applied stable carbon and nitrogen isotope analysis to bone and dentine collagen from human (n = 143) and animal (n = 105) individuals from the city of Polack and surrounding rural sites. Results indicate a diet based on C3 terrestrial resources, which did not differ between sexes and showed limited variation over time. Contrary to expectations, it appears that animal products were commonly consumed by rural dwellers, but no significant reliance on fish resources or millet consumption is found. In contrast to examples from western Europe, we argue that the diets in the city and the surrounding villages remained broadly similar for the majority of the population, and similar to commoners analysed in Poland and Lithuania, perhaps suggestive of slightly different economic changes operating in this part of the Medieval world.