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Diet and diversity at later medieval fishergate The isotopic evidence.

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AMERICAN JOURNAL OF PHYSICAL ANTHROPOLOGY 134:162–174 (2007)
Diet and Diversity at Later Medieval Fishergate:
The Isotopic Evidence
Gundula Müldner1* and Michael P. Richards2,3
1
Department of Archaeology, University of Reading, Whiteknights, Reading, RG6 6AB, UK
Department of Human Evolution, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology,
Deutscher Platz 6, 04103 Leipzig, Germany
3
Department of Archaeology, University of Durham, Durham, DH1 3LE, UK
2
KEY WORDS
stable isotope; bone; diet; gender; status
ABSTRACT
We present the results of stable carbon
and nitrogen isotope analysis of bone collagen for 155
individuals buried at the Later Medieval (13th to early
16th century AD) Gilbertine priory of St. Andrew, Fishergate in the city of York (UK). The data show significant variation in the consumption of marine foods
between males and females as well as between individuals buried in different areas of the priory. Specifically,
individuals from the crossing of the church and the
cloister garth had consumed significantly less marine
protein than those from other locations. Isotope data for
four individuals diagnosed with diffuse idiopathic skeleResearch into diet and nutrition has a long tradition
in anthropology where it is a well-known concept that
food consumption is governed by numerous social and
cultural preferences (see Parker Pearson, 2003). Gender,
age, social group, ethnicity, and religion are only some of
the factors that can significantly affect what and how
humans eat, and diachronic trends in food consumption
patterns are often directly related to important cultural
or economic changes within a society (Goodman et al.,
2000; Spencer, 2004).
The investigation of diet has been an important theme
in Medieval studies since the 1960s, and today a substantial amount of scholarly literature is concerned with
the complex social relations that are expressed through
Medieval foodways (e.g. Flandrin and Montanari, 1996;
Carlin and Rosenthal, 1998; Woolgar et al., 2006). Stable
isotope analysis of bone collagen is a relatively recent
addition to the suite of techniques employed to study
Medieval diet (see Müldner and Richards, 2006). Historical sources indicate substantial variation in the access to
plant and animal foods between different social groups.
Wealthy lay people and well-off monastic communities
consumed large amounts of meat and fish while the
lower classes derived most of their dietary protein from
plants and dairy products (Harvey, 1993; Dyer, 1998; for
a brief overview: Müldner and Richards, 2005).
Although stable isotope data characterizes food consumption only in rather broad terms, the differences in
the consumption of plant and animal protein, aquatic
and terrestrial foods outlined by documentary sources
are in principle well suited for investigation by stable
isotope analysis. Bone chemistry therefore has the potential to contribute new information to the study of social
variation in Medieval subsistence. In a small pilot study
(Müldner and Richards, 2005), we observed large isotopic
differences between the rural village of Wharram Percy
C 2007
V
WILEY-LISS, INC.
tal hyperostosis (DISH) are consistent with a diet rich
in animal protein. We also observe that isotopic signals
of individuals with perimortem sharp force trauma are
unusual in the context of the Fishergate dataset. We
discuss possible explanations for these patterns and
suggest that there may have been a specialist hospital
or a local tradition of burying victims of violent conflict
at the priory. The results demonstrate how the integration of archaeological, osteological, and isotopic data
can provide novel information about Medieval burial
and society. Am J Phys Anthropol 134:162–174, 2007.
C 2007
V
Wiley-Liss, Inc.
and other Medieval sites in northern England which
could be explained by the historically attested differences between monastic, upper and lower class diets. However, other factors, such as chronology and geographical
locations of the sites under study, could be equally important (see Müldner and Richards, 2006).
While this earlier investigation highlighted large variation between sites of different function, so far few isotopic studies have reported social variation in Medieval
diet within the same burial population, for example by
comparing humans from different burial locations (Mays,
1997), discrete age, and stature categories (Herrscher
et al., 2001) or individuals with certain pathological conditions (Polet and Katzenberg, 2003). All of these investigations were limited to relatively small sites or sample
sizes which make it difficult to evaluate some of the findings.
To explore the potential of stable carbon and nitrogen
isotope data for studying Medieval food consumption patterns on a larger scale, we conducted analyses of 155
adult individuals from the Later Medieval priory of St.
Andrew, Fishergate in York (northern England). Since
there is good evidence that the individuals buried in var-
Grant sponsor: Arts and Humanities Research Board (AHRB) Reference 02/61246.
*Correspondence to: Gundula Müldner, Department of Archaeology, University of Reading, Whiteknights, PO Box 227, Reading,
RG6 6AB, UK. E-mail: g.h.mueldner@reading.ac.uk
Received 5 December 2006; accepted 5 April 2007
DOI 10.1002/ajpa.20647
Published online 13 June 2007 in Wiley InterScience
(www.interscience.wiley.com).
163
DIET AT FISHERGATE
ious locations throughout the priory’s precinct belonged
to different social groups, Fishergate is a key assemblage
for biocultural investigations into Medieval British society and has been extensively studied osteologically
(Stroud and Kemp, 1993; Kemp and Graves, 1996; see
for example Knüsel et al., 1997; Sullivan, 2004; Rhodes
and Knüsel, 2005). A previous small-scale stable isotope
study of 19 individuals conducted by Mays (1997) has
also already shown significant variations in carbon isotope ratios within the population which suggested that
the inmates of the priory consumed more marine foods
than lay people buried at the site. Following on from
this earlier investigation, yet with a greatly increased
number of samples, the present study therefore aims to
test the hypothesis that stable isotope analysis of bone
collagen can trace the social variation in Medieval diet
which is indicated by the documentary evidence and
therefore that it can make a contribution to wider questions surrounding diet and society in the Middle Ages.
This work was part of a larger project exploring dietary change from the Roman to the Early Modern period
in York by stable isotope analysis (Müldner, 2005). While
a detailed discussion of diet at Fishergate within its
chronological context is presented elsewhere (Müldner
and Richards, 2007), this article will focus on intrapopulation patterns in the isotopic data.
BONE COLLAGEN STABLE ISOTOPE ANALYSIS
AND DIETARY RECONSTRUCTION
Stable isotope analysis of carbon and nitrogen for dietary reconstruction is based on the principle that the isotopic composition of body tissues reflects that of the food
consumed by individuals during tissue formation. Stable
carbon isotope ratios (d13C) differ characteristically
between foods from certain environments, such as plants
of different photosynthetic pathways (C3 and C4) or
between (C3-based) terrestrial, and marine ecosystems
(Schwarcz and Schoeninger, 1991). Stable nitrogen isotope ratios (d15N) are generally higher in aquatic than in
terrestrial ecosystems, but most importantly, they
increase by 3–5% with each trophic level. d15N ratios
can consequently be employed to infer the relative
importance of plant and animal products in the diet
(Katzenberg, 2000; Sealy, 2001). Crucially, however, they
cannot distinguish between meat and dairy products
from the same animal (O’Connell and Hedges, 1999).
Stable isotope measurements of skeletal remains are
most frequently obtained from bone collagen, not only
because it is the only significant source of nitrogen in
bone, but also because its preservation can be assessed
by chemical indicators during routine analysis (DeNiro,
1985; van Klinken, 1999). Collagen is synthesized chiefly
from dietary protein (‘‘protein routing’’) and the isotopic
data are therefore biased towards high protein foods
(Ambrose and Norr, 1993; Tieszen and Fagre, 1993). Collagen turnover rates vary between different types of
bone but available data for adults indicate that the isotopic composition of bone collagen reflects an average of
the dietary protein consumed over the last 10–30 years
of life (Wild et al., 2000).
BURIAL AND SOCIAL STATUS AT THE
GILBERTINE PRIORY AT FISHERGATE
Despite the lack of grave goods and the apparent uniformity of the burial rite, Later Medieval burials were
highly differentiated in terms of social background and
status of the deceased. Burial location especially, at a
particular church, cathedral, or monastery and ideally in
direct proximity to a sacred focus such as an altar or
shrine, was regarded as an important means, not only
for displaying the social position of the deceased to the
world, but also for assisting in the swift passage of the
soul through Purgatory and into Heaven (Daniell, 1997;
Hadley, 2001; Gilchrist and Sloane, 2005). The Medieval
tradition of lay burial within monasteries became
increasingly popular from the 12th century onwards and
was usually granted in exchange for a bequest of land or
money. A resting place in a religious house was not only
more prestigious than burial at the local parish church,
it also meant that the souls of the deceased were
included in the daily prayers of the community (Daniell,
1997).
The Gilbertines are the only monastic order to be
founded in Medieval England. They were established in
AD 1139 by St. Gilbert of Sempringham, who adopted
the Augustinian Rule to regulate the life of his followers.
Hence, male Gilbertine religious houses were priories,
with a complement of canons headed by a prior who
were aided by lay brothers in manual and administrative
tasks (Golding, 1995).
The Gilbertine priory at the Church of St. Andrew,
Fishergate in York was probably established in AD 1195
and existed until the Dissolution under Henry VIII c.
AD 1538. Construction of the first priory buildings began
around AD 1200 (Period 6a) and reconstructions and
alterations were carried out throughout the 14th to early
16th century (Periods 6b–f). They provide stratigraphic
evidence for dating many of the burials on the priory
grounds (Kemp and Graves, 1996; see captions Table 1).
The presence of numerous females and nonadults
among the individuals recovered from the priory site
indicates that the canons were accommodating lay burial. Although Fishergate was not a particularly prosperous community and it probably never attracted the
patronage of exceptionally wealthy benefactors, the patterns of burials in different areas, in open cemeteries to
the south and east of the church as well as in various
locations inside the priory buildings (Fig. 1), allow some
differentiation of individuals in terms of their occupation
and social status (Stroud and Kemp, 1993; Kemp and
Graves, 1996). These will be outlined below.
The eastern cemetery
The individuals buried east of the priory church were
identified almost without exception as male and are
thought to represent members of the monastic community. In particular, a distinct group of early burials
immediately east of the church, has been interpreted as
that of inmates of the priory, perhaps the initial complement of the House (Stroud and Kemp, 1993; Kemp and
Graves, 1996).
The southern cemetery
Graves in the cemetery south of the church were often
shallow, and it has been suggested that many of the
servants or laborers employed by the canons were
interred here. Among these, the burials of two priests
(YFG1428 and YFG6128) can be identified by the inclusion of a mortuary chalice and/or paten in the graves
(Stroud and Kemp, 1993; see Daniell, 1997).
American Journal of Physical Anthropology—DOI 10.1002/ajpa
164
G. MÜLDNER AND M.P. RICHARDS
13
TABLE 1. d C and
Sample (YFG)
1,082
1,085
1,410
1,425
1,428
1,432
1,436
1,443
1,457
1,464
1,479
1,494
1,550
1,562
1,585
1,592
1,722
2,049
2,086
2,094
2,123
2,125
2,148
2,157
2,159
2,163
2,170
2,172
2,173
2,178
2,183
2,185
2,196
2,220
2,222
2,227
2,231
2,237
2,244
2,246
2,255
2,257
2,261
2,270
2,291
2,297
2,306
2,309
2,322
2,325
2,336
2,344
3,111
3,152
3,195
3,202
3,203
3,258
3,365
3,522
3,527
3,530
3,536
3,557
3,567
4,460
5,022
5,023
5,024
15
N ratios, collagen quality indicators, osteological, and archaeological information
for humans from later Medieval Fishergate
d13C
d15N
C/N
%C
%N
%Coll.a
Sex
Age
Period
Location
Comments
18.7
19.4
19.6
18.4
18.9
18.5
18.9
19.7
18.9
19.9
19.4
19.0
18.8
19.4
20.2
19.2
19.2
18.1
18.8
18.3
18.9
17.9
19.5
18.7
19.0
18.7
18.8
18.6
18.9
18.7
19.5
18.7
18.4
18.9
19.6
17.9
19.5
18.7
18.6
19.3
19.2
18.9
19.1
18.8
19.6
20.0
18.7
18.9
20.5
19.4
18.7
19.5
18.4
18.4
18.8
19.2
19.0
19.0
19.2
19.4
19.8
18.7
19.5
17.9
19.4
19.2
19.1
18.2
19.0
13.5
11.1
11.2
13.3
13.8
13.3
12.9
10.3
13.4
10.2
12.2
14.4
13.8
11.7
10.8
13.3
11.9
14.8
14.3
14.7
13.5
15.2
13.3
13.4
14.4
12.9
13.2
13.1
13.5
14.2
11.1
14.4
15.2
12.4
13.3
14.0
11.6
13.5
14.1
11.5
12.9
14.0
12.4
13.4
13.1
11.7
13.0
12.7
9.1
9.8
12.8
11.8
14.3
14.2
13.7
12.8
13.8
13.3
12.9
12.8
10.3
13.6
13.8
14.9
13.4
12.7
11.4
12.8
11.9
3.3
3.2
3.4
3.2
3.2
3.3
3.4
3.3
3.3
3.4
3.3
3.2
3.2
3.3
3.3
3.2
3.3
3.3
3.3
3.3
3.3
3.3
3.2
3.3
3.3
3.6
3.3
3.3
3.3
3.3
3.3
3.3
3.3
3.3
3.3
3.4
3.2
3.3
3.4
3.3
3.5
3.3
3.5
3.4
3.3
3.3
3.4
3.2
3.3
3.3
3.3
3.3
3.2
3.3
3.4
3.4
3.5
3.4
3.5
3.2
3.3
3.3
3.3
3.3
3.5
3.3
3.3
3.5
3.4
45.1
41.8
43.4
44.3
45.2
42.7
45.2
45.0
41.4
44.9
41.5
44.8
41.7
42.4
42.6
42.3
44.3
44.0
42.7
43.8
42.1
43.5
43.4
42.5
40.7
44.7
41.2
37.0
45.4
43.6
42.3
41.8
44.7
39.3
46.3
45.9
42.9
42.0
43.3
41.2
31.2
40.3
41.4
43.0
39.6
41.8
44.3
42.3
44.5
43.4
43.3
39.1
44.9
42.1
42.1
44.2
38.0
42.8
43.1
41.7
44.3
45.4
45.1
44.4
41.3
41.8
42.7
43.7
44.0
15.7
15.5
14.9
16.2
16.4
15.0
15.6
15.7
14.6
15.6
14.7
16.5
15.0
15.3
15.1
15.6
15.5
15.6
15.1
15.6
15.0
15.6
15.6
15.1
14.5
14.8
14.5
13.0
15.9
15.5
14.9
14.8
16.0
13.9
16.5
15.8
15.6
14.9
15.0
14.6
10.3
14.4
13.8
15.3
13.8
15.0
15.2
15.2
15.5
15.3
15.5
13.7
16.7
15.3
14.8
15.5
12.8
14.5
14.6
15.0
15.5
16.0
15.7
15.5
13.7
15.3
14.9
14.7
15.1
12.4
1.6
3.9
2.3
4.9
2.5
5.2
5.9
2.9
10.2
2.4
7.2
4.4
2.4
3.2
2.3
4.0
3.0
1.8
3.1
1.0
3.6
2.2
2.4
1.8
1.5
1.5
1.2
3.5
2.7
2.3
3.5
3.7
0.9
11.6
9.6
2.8
2.2
2.5
1.9
0.9
1.4
1.2
5.2
5.4
2.4
5.1
2.3
3.5
1.6
1.8
4.2
6.1
2.5
1.4
2.3
3.1
1.7
0.7
7.0
8.5
7.8
5.3
5.3
0.5
7.7
1.4
2.8
1.7
M
F
M
M
M
M
M
F
M
F
M
M
M
M
M
M
M
M
M
M
M
M
F
M
M
F
M
M
F
M
F
M
M
M
F
M
F
F
M
?F
M
M
M
M
F
M
F
M
F
M
M
F
M
M
M
M
M
F
F
F
F
M
?M
M
F
M
M
M
M
36–45
26–35
46þ
18–25
26–35
46þ
18–25
26–35
26–35
18–25
18–25
26–35
46þ
18–25
18–25
18–25
18–25
26–35
26–35
46þ
26–35
46þ
46þ
46þ
26–35
18–25
26–35
26–35
36–45
36–45
26–35
46þ
36–45
26–35
36–45
46þ
18–25
26–45
36–45
36–45
18–25
36–45
36–45
26–35
36–45
36–45
26–35
26–35
18–25
18–25
46þ
36–45
26–35
18–25
36–45
18–25
18–25
36–45
adult
26–35
26–35
36–45
36–45
26–45
36–45
46þ
26–35
18–25
26–35
6b
6b
6b
6b
6b
6b
6b
6b
6b
6b
6b
6c
6c
6a
6b
6a
6a
6c
6c
6b
6c
6c
6c
6c
6c
6b
6b
6b
6c
6c
6a/b
6b
6b
6b
6a/b
6a/b
6a/b
6a
6a
6a/b
6a/b
6a
6a/b
6c
6a/b
6a
6c
6c
6b
6a
6a
6a
6a/b
6b
6a/b
6b
6b
6a
6a
6a
6a
6a
6a
6a
6a
6b
6a/b
6a/b
6a/b
S cem
S cem
S cem
S cem
S cem
S cem
S cem
S cem
S cem
S cem
S cem
S cem
S cem
S cem
S cem
S cem
S cem
nave
nave
nave
nave
nave
nave
nave
nave
nave
nave
nave
nave
nave
nave
nave
nave
nave
nave
nave
nave
nave
nave
nave
nave
nave
nave
nave
nave
nave
nave
nave
nave
nave
nave
nave
ChH
alley
ChH
alley
alley
alley
alley
alley
alley
alley
alley
alley
alley
alley
E cem
E cem
E cem
eg
eg
eg
eg
eg
eg
eg
eg
eg
eg
eg
sc; priest
eg
eg
eg; blade
eg; blad
eg
eg
eg
eg
eg
eg
eg
eg
eg
eg;
eg
eg
eg
eg
eg
eg
eg; DISH
eg
eg
eg
eg
eg
eg
eg
eg
eg
eg
eg
eg
eg
eg
eg
eg
eg; blade
eg
eg
eg
eg
nc
eg
eg
eg
eg
sc
sc
sc
tg
eg
tg
eg
nc
nc
nc
(continued)
American Journal of Physical Anthropology—DOI 10.1002/ajpa
165
DIET AT FISHERGATE
TABLE 1. (Continued)
Sample (YFG)
5,062
5,063
5,064
5,070
5,071
5,075
5,076
5,078
5,079
5,082
5,086
5,089
5,090
5,095
5,099
5,120
5,133
5,136
5,137
5,138
5,149
5,150
5,156
5,157
5,162
5,183
5,190
5,192
5,251
5,253
5,259
5,266
5,301
5,313
5,315
5,324
5,325
5,327
5,331
5,332
5,334
5,335
5,336
5,340
5,341
5,349
5,350
5,351
5,354
5,356
5,357
5,362
5,585
5,641
5,642
5,690
5,720
5,724
6,063
6,068
6,082
6,094
6,097
6,109
6,128
6,171
6,183
6,187
6,189
6,192
6,218
13
d C
15
d N
C/N
%C
%N
%Coll.a
Sex
Age
Period
Location
Comments
19.2
18.6
18.6
18.2
18.4
18.7
19.3
19.3
19.2
19.2
19.2
18.6
19.0
19.2
18.4
18.9
18.9
18.3
18.8
18.5
19.0
19.7
18.5
19.2
19.0
18.8
19.3
18.7
18.7
19.2
19.4
20.2
20.2
19.8
19.7
20.3
20.4
20.1
20.6
18.1
19.4
18.8
19.6
18.9
18.8
18.4
18.3
18.6
20.8
19.9
20.4
18.4
19.6
19.0
18.3
18.8
16.5
18.7
19.3
18.4
19.1
19.4
18.7
18.7
18.1
18.7
19.4
19.2
20.0
19.7
19.4
12.6
12.5
13.3
14.1
13.2
12.7
12.7
13.1
13.2
13.1
11.8
12.0
13.0
12.9
14.2
13.3
12.7
12.7
13.5
14.7
13.7
10.7
14.0
12.3
13.7
12.4
12.8
12.5
14.4
13.3
12.7
11.2
9.9
11.4
11.4
10.7
10.4
10.7
10.7
14.0
11.2
13.7
11.7
12.7
13.8
14.2
13.8
13.8
9.8
10.8
11.1
13.3
12.4
13.7
14.7
13.2
17.2
13.1
12.8
12.5
13.4
12.7
14.5
12.5
14.4
12.7
12.5
12.0
11.6
12.4
12.4
3.4
3.3
3.5
3.3
3.2
3.4
3.3
3.3
3.4
3.2
3.4
3.3
3.3
3.3
3.3
3.3
3.3
3.4
3.2
3.3
3.2
3.3
3.3
3.3
3.2
3.3
3.3
3.3
3.3
3.4
3.2
3.3
3.3
3.3
3.4
3.3
3.3
3.3
3.3
3.3
3.3
3.2
3.3
3.2
3.3
3.2
3.3
3.2
3.3
3.2
3.3
3.3
3.2
3.2
3.3
3.3
3.2
3.3
3.4
3.4
3.4
3.5
3.3
3.4
3.4
3.3
3.3
3.2
3.3
3.3
3.3
44.2
43.4
46.3
43.2
44.3
43.3
43.9
43.7
44.8
43.6
43.7
43.0
45.2
40.7
44.8
43.4
44.6
43.2
45.5
42.1
44.1
44.3
44.9
44.6
44.6
45.4
44.3
45.0
43.9
43.1
44.6
43.6
40.1
43.5
44.7
45.4
43.4
43.7
44.3
42.2
44.7
41.6
43.1
44.9
45.1
44.7
44.5
44.9
42.3
43.7
44.0
44.0
45.3
43.9
43.9
45.2
45.1
44.5
41.0
44.6
44.8
44.2
45.2
44.9
45.2
41.4
41.9
41.5
40.0
43.7
45.2
15.3
15.3
15.2
15.1
16.2
14.9
15.4
15.4
15.3
15.9
14.8
15.2
16.0
14.6
15.9
15.4
15.8
14.8
16.4
15.1
15.7
15.9
15.9
15.6
15.8
16.1
15.7
16.0
15.7
14.8
16.1
15.5
14.2
15.4
15.6
15.9
15.5
15.5
15.7
15.0
15.9
14.9
15.1
16.1
16.1
16.2
15.8
16.5
14.8
15.7
15.5
15.5
16.7
15.9
15.5
16.2
16.4
15.7
14.2
15.2
15.2
14.9
16.0
15.5
15.6
14.8
15.0
15.0
14.1
15.6
16.0
3.2
3.2
2.9
2.7
6.1
2.8
2.3
3.6
4.9
7.3
2.7
3.2
4.5
2.3
3.4
5.6
3.0
1.9
6.1
3.2
3.8
4.3
4.5
1.5
7.2
3.5
9.3
4.4
4.4
2.2
8.2
1.9
1.6
3.3
2.9
2.1
1.6
3.7
8.0
2.1
3.8
9.9
1.9
4.7
10.9
5.4
3.2
7.2
1.7
2.7
1.8
3.2
5.9
7.5
5.7
7.2
2.9
2.6
1.7
3.6
3.3
2.3
13.4
4.5
12.6
12.5
2.7
2.4
1.7
2.9
5.9
M
M
M
M
M
M
M
M
M
M
M
M
M
M
M
M
M
M
M
M
F
M
M
M
M
M
F
M
M
F
M
M
M
M
F
F
F
F
M
M
M
M
M
M
M
M
M
M
M
M
F
M
M
M
M
M
M
M
F
M
M
F
M
M
M
F
M
M
F
M
M
36–45
36–45
46þ
46þ
26–35
26–35
36–45
46þ
36–45
36–45
26–35
36–45
46þ
46þ
46þ
26–35
26–35
36–45
26–45
18–25
36–45
36–45
36–45
26–35
36–45
46þ
46þ
26–35
36–45
46þ
26–35
36–45
36–45
18–25
36–45
36–45
26–35
26–35
36–45
46þ
26–35
18–25
18–25
18–25
46þ
36–45
adult
46þ
26–35
26–35
26–35
36–45
36–45
46þ
36–45
46þ
18–25
36–45
46þ
26–35
36–45
46þ
18–25
26–35
36–45
26–35
26–35
36–45
26–35
26–35
36–45
6a/b
6a/b
6a/b
6a/b
6a/b
6a/b
6a/b
6a/b
6a/b
6c
6a/b
6a/b
6a/b
6a/b
6a/b
6a/b
6a/b
6a/b
6a/b
6a/b
6a/b
6a/b
6a/b
6a/b
6a/b
6a/b
6a/b
6a/b
6a
6a/b
6a/b
6a
6a
6a
6a
6a
6a
6a
6a
6a/b
6a/b
6a/b
6a/b
6a/b
6a/b
6a/b
6a/b
6a/b
6a
6a
6a
6a/b
6a/b
6a/b
6a/b
6c
6a/b
6a/b
6c
6c
6c
6c
6c
6c
6a
6b
6c
6a
6c
6a
6c
E cem
E cem
E cem
E cem
E cem
E cem
E cem
E cem
E cem
E cem
E cem
E cem
E cem
E cem
E cem
E cem
E cem
E cem
trans
trans
E cem
E cem
E cem
E cem
E cem
E cem
trans
E cem
cross
trans
trans
cross
cross
cross
cross
cross
cross
cross
cross
E cem
E cem
E cem
E cem
Presb
Presb
Presb
E cem
E cem
cross
cross
cross
E cem
E cem
E cem
E cem
E cem
ChH
E cem
nave
nave
nave
nave
nave
nave
S cem
S cem
S cem
S cem
S cem
S cem
S cem
nc
nc
nc
nc; DISH
nc
nc
nc
nc
nc
nc
nc
nc
nc
nc
nc
nc
nc
nc
sc
sc
nc
eg
nc
nc
nc
nc
sc
nc
nc
nc
nc
eg
nc
nc
nc
nc
nc
nc
nc
nc
nc
nc
nc
nc
lime
eg
nc
nc; DISH
nc; blade
nc; blade
nc
nc
nc
nc
nc
sts; DISH
nc; blade
nc
eg
eg
eg
eg
eg
eg
eg; priest
eg
eg
nc
eg
eg
eg
(continued)
American Journal of Physical Anthropology—DOI 10.1002/ajpa
166
G. MÜLDNER AND M.P. RICHARDS
TABLE 1. (Continued)
Sample (YFG)
6,245
6,250
6,256
6,274
6,277
6,303
6,367
7,016
7050
7,052
7,053
10,013
10,266
10,268
10,269
13
d C
15
d N
C/N
%C
%N
%Coll.a
Sex
Age
Period
Location
Comments
18.7
19.7
19.5
19.4
19.1
20.0
20.0
20.6
20.3
19.3
19.8
19.2
18.0
19.9
18.5
13.4
12.0
12.1
11.4
12.3
11.8
12.4
11.2
10.9
10.7
10.8
12.9
14.3
12.7
14.6
3.4
3.2
3.2
3.2
3.3
3.3
3.3
3.2
3.3
3.3
3.3
3.3
3.3
3.3
3.2
38.0
45.5
42.6
42.8
42.6
44.8
43.6
44.2
43.0
42.3
40.1
43.1
43.6
42.0
41.5
13.1
16.8
15.7
15.7
15.1
16.0
15.3
16.1
15.3
15.0
14.4
15.5
15.6
15.0
14.9
1.9
2.8
8.6
1.4
0.9
5.1
4.1
4.7
2.4
3.4
3.6
2.9
13.2
2.1
2.1
M
M
F
F
M
M
M
M
M
M
M
F
M
F
M
46þ
46þ
36–45
26–35
18–25
36–45
46þ
26–35
18–25
18–25
18–25
36–45
36–45
26–35
46þ
6c
6c
6a
6a
6a
6a
6a
6z
6z
6z
6z
6a/b
6a/b
6a/b
6a/b
S cem
S cem
S cem
S cem
S cem
S cem
S cem
garth
garth
garth
garth
E cem
E cem
E cem
E cem
eg
eg
eg
eg
eg
eg
nc
nc
nc; blade
nc; blade
nc; blade
nc
nc
eg
nc
Osteological data after (Stroud and Kemp, 1993, age categories modified after assessment by GM (see Müldner, 2005).
Period key: 6a ¼ AD1195 – late 13th century; 6b ¼ late 13th to early 14th century; 6c ¼ early – mid 14th century; 6z ¼ 13th to 16th century.
Locations key: alley ¼ cloister alley; ChH ¼ chapter house; cross ¼ church crossing; E cem ¼ eastern cemetery; garth ¼ cloister
garth; presb ¼ presbytery; S cem ¼ southern cemetery; trans ¼ northern transept chapel.
Comments key: blade ¼ with perimortem sharp force trauma; eg ¼ earth grave; nc ¼ no grave cut observed; priest ¼ priest burial identified
by mortuary chalice and/or paten; sc ¼ stone coffin; sts ¼ stone slabs; tg ¼ tile grave (see Stroud and Kemp 1993, for details on burial types).
a
Note that the use of ultrafilters reduces collagen yields by 50% or more (GM, unpublished data).
The church and claustral buildings
Inside the priory church, several burial zones were
identified. The presence of females in the nave, the
crossing and the northern transept chapel indicates that
these areas probably contained the graves of lay benefactors. Burial in the presbytery, the eastern end of the
church where the canons were seated, may have been reserved for members of the clergy (Stroud and Kemp,
1993; Kemp and Graves, 1996). A similar classification is
possible for the burial areas north of the church: the
chapterhouse, cloister garth, and eastern cloister alley.
Only the alley contains female burials, although the
presence of males with peri-mortem blade injuries
(sharp-force trauma consistent with a sword or other
large blade weapon which showed no evidence of healing
before death) in both the cloister garth and the chapterhouse caused the excavators to question whether these
places were exclusive to members of the order or rather
locations of special significance that also accommodated
lay burial (Stroud and Kemp, 1993, see further discussion below; Kemp and Graves, 1996).
All samples were prepared according to a modified
Longin method (Brown et al., 1988) as described in
Müldner and Richards (2005), and analyzed by continuous-flow isotope ratio mass spectrometry in the Department of Archaeological Science, University of Bradford.
The analytical error (1r) affecting the isotopic measurement was calculated from repeat analysis of internal laboratory standards and was determined to be 60.2% for
both elements.
The Fishergate dataset does not fulfill the conditions
for the application of parametric statistical tests (normal
distribution, equality of variances) and also has other
properties (presence of outliers, large differences in
group sizes) that make it unsuitable for the application
of the t test. Since the nonparametric equivalent, the
Mann-Whitney test, also assumes equality of variances
(Kasuya, 2001), the less well-known and conservative
two-sample Kolmogorov-Smirnov (K-S) test was chosen
to statistically validate interpretations of the dataset
(Conover, 1999). All statistics were computed with the
assistance of SPSS 11.5 for Windows.
RESULTS
METHODOLOGY
Altogether 271 individuals (males, females, and nonadults) were recovered from the priory excavations. The
male/female ratio of about 3.1 (173 males vs. 55 females)
likely reflects the monastic character of the site but also
the fact that lay burial in monasteries was requested
more often for men than for women (Stroud and Kemp,
1993; Daniell, 1997).
A total of 155 individuals were sampled for isotope
analysis. This selection originally comprised all adult
individuals for whom a well-defined age and sex category
had been determined and who could be assigned to one
of the more closely dated sub-phases 6a–c (see Stroud
and Kemp, 1993). This sample was then modified to
include individuals from all burial locations. Basic biological and archaeological information for each individual is presented in Table 1.
Collagen quality indicators of all 155 samples were
within the accepted range (DeNiro, 1985; van Klinken,
1999; see Table 1). Basic statistics for the data-set are
skewed by the presence of one extreme outlier
(YFG5720) which exhibits carbon and nitrogen isotope
values that are more than three standard deviations
greater than the population means: d13C ratios of the
whole population range over 4.3% (2.9% without
YFG5720), from 20.8 to 16.5% (17.9%), with a
mean of 19.1% 6 0.6% (1r) (unchanged). d15N values
range over 8.1% (6.1% without YFG5720), from 9.1 to
17.2% (15.2%), with a mean of 12.8% 6 1.3%
(unchanged).
The distribution of isotope values for males and
females show significant overlap (male mean 18.9% 6
0.6%, 13.0% 6 1.3%; female mean 19.5% 6 0.5%,
12.1% 6 1.2%). However, it is notable that the highest
values (d13C > 18.5% and d15N > 14.0%) are exhibited
American Journal of Physical Anthropology—DOI 10.1002/ajpa
167
DIET AT FISHERGATE
Fig. 1. Plan of the church
and claustral buildings at Fishergate (Period 6a) with indication of
the different burial locations discussed in the text. (Modified from
original map, Kemp and Graves
(1996), copyright by York Archaeological Trust).
exclusively by males (Fig. 2). The resulting differences
are statistically significant (two-sample K-S test P <
0.001 for d13C, P ¼ 0.01 for d15N). No isotopic variation
is apparent between individuals of different age-at-death
or stature (males and females considered separately; see
Müldner, 2005).
Data exploration reveals only a few differences between individuals buried in different locations on the
priory grounds. Average carbon and nitrogen isotope
ratios from the cemeteries south and east of the church,
the nave, presbytery, and north transept chapel as well
as the burials from the cloister alley are very similar
(Fig. 3). Nevertheless, individuals buried in the crossing
of the church and the cloister garth display low carbon
and nitrogen isotope ratios in comparison with other
locations (two-sample K-S test P < 0.001 for d13C and
d15N). The average for the three individuals from the
chapterhouse is notably higher than the population
mean; however, this is caused by the extreme outlierYFG5720 (see above).
Regardless of burial locations, various individuals
were set apart from the rest by way of special containers
(e.g. stone sarcophagi), grave inclusions (e.g. mortuary
chalice), or pathological lesions. However, with the
exception of the unusual distribution of values for individuals with perimortem blade injuries, their isotopic
data revealed few interesting patterns (see further
discussion below).
DISCUSSION
The wide range of stable isotope values from the Fishergate priory suggests large dietary variation between
individuals. Nevertheless, the population mean is rather
typical of Later Medieval sites in northern England
(Müldner and Richards, 2005) and has also been
American Journal of Physical Anthropology—DOI 10.1002/ajpa
168
G. MÜLDNER AND M.P. RICHARDS
Fig. 2. Carbon and nitrogen isotope ratios for males (n ¼
119) and females (n ¼ 36) from Fishergate. Also shown are average isotope values (61r) for Later Medieval fauna (marine and
freshwater fish from the Roman to the Post-Medieval period)
from York (after Müldner and Richards, 2007). Herbivores are
cattle (n ¼ 4) and sheep/goat (n ¼ 5); carnivores are cat (n ¼ 1)
and cat/fox (n ¼ 1); pigs (n ¼ 9); domestic fowl (n ¼ 2); freshwater fish are cyprinid (n ¼ 3), pike (n ¼ 2) and eel (n ¼ 5); herring þ salmonid are herring (n ¼ 5) and salmonid (n ¼ 6); offshore marine are gadid (n ¼ 3), haddock (n ¼ 3), ling (n ¼ 3),
and thornback ray (n ¼ 2).
observed in contemporaneous samples from coastal
Belgium (Polet and Katzenberg, 2003) and northern
Germany (Schäuble, 2006).
The interpretation of the dietary signal from Fishergate in the context of other human populations from
York and animal background data is discussed in detail
in Müldner and Richards (2007) and can be outlined
here only very briefly. In short, the significant positive
correlation of d13C and d15N values indicates that the
majority of the population consumed marine fish in varying amounts. The disproportionately high d15N ratios
must likely be attributed to the consumption of pigs fed
omnivorous diets and perhaps minor contributions from
other 15N enriched foods (such as riverine fish, eggs, or
poultry) that were available in the Medieval city. The
greatly increased importance of marine fish in Later
Medieval diet in comparison to earlier periods may be
explained by the rise of commercial deep-sea fisheries
from about AD 1000, which was fuelled by the increase
in demand for fish due to fasting regulations imposed by
the Catholic Church. These banned the consumption
of meat on nearly half the days of the year (see Barrett
et al., 2004).
The remainder of this article will focus on specific patterns identified within the Fishergate dataset, which
relate exclusively to variation in the amount of marine
protein consumed by different individuals.
Male/female differences
It is generally accepted that there are no systematic
differences in the isotopic composition of male and
female body tissues due to physiological reasons
(Schwarcz and Schoeninger, 1991; Vanderklift and Ponsard, 2003). Although Fuller et al. (2004) recently
reported a temporary decrease in hair d15N values in
pregnant women, this ‘‘pregnancy effect’’ would probably
Fig. 3. Mean d13C and d15N values (61r) for individuals
buried in different locations at Fishergate priory. Individuals
buried in the crossing of the church and the cloister garth display markedly lower values than the rest. (Note: group means
change only marginally when only males are considered to
remove possible bias on account of male–female differences).
not be seen in metabolically less active tissues such as
bone collagen. In any case, since not only the nitrogen
but also carbon isotope ratios of the Fishergate females
are lower than those of the males, it is most likely that
the observed differences are dietary. It therefore appears
that, on average, women at Fishergate consumed less
marine foods than men.
There can be no doubt that males and females had
very different roles in medieval society. There is little information, however, on whether and how these functions
may have affected their diet. Medieval dietary theory,
drawing mainly on classical writers like Hippocrates and
Galen, recognized differences between males and females
regarding their make-up of the four humors: blood,
choler, phlegm, and melancholy. These gave rise to differences in temperament between the sexes and, in consequence, different foods would have been recommended
to them for best possible health (Woolgar, 2006). The
classification was complex, however, and the most beneficial diet was decided on not only by considering a person’s gender but also their age as well as various environmental factors. Mode of food preparation also had a
significant impact on whether a meal was considered
warm or cold, dry or moist, and therefore suitable for a
specific temperament (Scully, 1995). While the influence
of Medieval dietetics on public opinion therefore likely
made a difference to the diet of certain individuals, it is
less clear whether they could be responsible for the general male/female variation observed in the Fishergate
dataset. Indeed, the stable isotope data for three male/
female double burials (YFG2163 and 2171, 2261 and
2246, 2157 and 2173) from inside the church suggest no
differences between men and women of the same household and status (see Table 1).
Migration into towns is another possible explanation
for the observed pattern. Especially in the decades after
the Black Death (AD 1349), the number of women
migrating to York from the surrounding countryside in
search of labor exceeded that of men (Goldberg, 1992).
Stable isotope data from the village of Wharram Percy
in North Yorkshire (Richards et al., 2002) indicates that
diet in rural settlements could differ significantly from
American Journal of Physical Anthropology—DOI 10.1002/ajpa
DIET AT FISHERGATE
towns (see Müldner and Richards, 2006). Because of the
long turnover time of bone collagen a previous diet
would still be reflected in the bones of a migrant for
years after their move (see Cox et al., 2001).
Historical evidence could therefore provide a framework for explaining the observed dietary variation
between the sexes. Unfortunately, since the majority of
the burials at Fishergate cannot be dated more accurately than between the 13th and early 16th century
(Periods 6a/b), it is difficult to tie in the isotopic data
with documented historical processes. However, it is also
worth remembering that the individuals buried at the
priory are not wholly representative of the population of
Later Medieval York. The male group especially contains
both lay men and members of the order which are often
impossible to distinguish from the burial record. The monastic character of the site may therefore offer yet
another explanation for the apparent male/female differences in the data (see below).
Lay versus monastic diet
In an earlier investigation of stable carbon isotope values of individuals from Fishergate, Mays (1997) observed
significantly higher d13C ratios in males buried in the
eastern (‘‘monastic’’) cemetery than in individuals from
the nave of the priory church. He concluded that the
canons consumed more marine foods than secular individuals. Our investigation, which benefits from a larger
sample size, shows that although the trend observed by
Mays was real, its interpretation nevertheless needs to
be revised. Seven out of 10 individuals selected from
inside the church for the 1997 study were female, deliberately chosen to ensure that the majority of the samples
were indeed of lay people. The results therefore more
likely reflect the observed dietary variation between
males and females, than differences between burial locations.
If only males are considered, stable isotope values for
the eastern cemetery are in fact remarkably similar to
the data from the nave of the church, the southern cemetery, or the cloister alley, all areas accommodating lay
burial (values in Fig. 3 change only marginally; twosample K-S tests, P > 0.05). Similarly, the two priests
buried in the southern cemetery (YFG1494 and 6128)
fall within one standard deviation of the male mean.
Although there are examples of lay benefactors who
chose to enter a priory later in life, it is thought that the
majority of Gilbertines joined the order when they were
children (Golding, 1995). Age at entry into a monastic
life-style (and therefore ‘‘residual’’ signals of a former
‘‘laymen’s’’ diet in the bones of the canons) should therefore not give rise to significant variation in the monastic
group, even though this possibility cannot be completely
dismissed. On the whole, the evidence therefore suggests
that differences in diet between the religious community
and lay people buried at Fishergate were not significant
enough to be detected by isotope analysis. This finding is
consistent with historical evidence that the relatively
strict dietary regulations set out for religious orders
were often rather loosely interpreted by the Later Middle Ages and that there was often very little difference
between the diet of a prosperous monastic community
and well-off lay people (see Harvey, 1993).
Alternatively however, it may simply not be possible to
sufficiently distinguish between canons and lay men on
grounds of the burial location to contrast the two groups.
169
Fig. 4. Individuals with skeletal lesions characteristic of
DISH in comparison with rest of the male population. Note that
all four plot above the male mean (18.9% 6 0.6%; 13.0% 6
1.3%). For faunal data see captions Figure 2.
Although there is evidence that religious orders often
kept separate cemeteries, in reality the spatial arrangements were extremely variable and the boundaries often
blurred (Kemp and Graves, 1996, see Gilchrist and
Sloane, 2005). This is evident, for example, by the burial
of three females on the fringes of the ‘‘monastic’’ cemetery at Fishergate (Stroud and Kemp, 1993). The inability to separate members of the order and the laity
among the males offers an alternative explanation for
the observed male/female differences: They could be the
result of a bias of the male data towards more marine
values due to the presence of monastic individuals in the
sample. A similar explanation was also offered for male/
female differences observed in a much smaller sample
from the Augustinian friary at Warrington (Müldner and
Richards, 2006). Dietary data from nonmonastic sites is
needed to further evaluate this hypothesis.
DISH. Diffuse idiopathic skeletal hyperostosis (DISH) is
a degenerative disease which manifests itself by ossification of ligaments and tendons, especially of the spine
(Ortner, 2003). DISH is clinically linked to obesity and
acquired diabetes and, because of its perceived frequency
at ecclesiastical sites, has often been associated with a
rich monastic diet (Rogers and Waldron, 2001; but see
Mays, 2006). It is therefore appropriate to consider individuals with the condition in this context.
Four of the seven individuals from Fishergate diagnosed with DISH were included in this study (Stroud
and Kemp, 1993). While all of these plot with the great
majority of the males which are not visibly affected by
DISH (Fig. 4), it is notable that all afflicted individuals
plot above the male mean of 18.9% (d13C) and 13.0%
(d15N). These values are consistent with a diet rich in
animal protein, which included a significant proportion
of marine foods. The isotopic data, although not ultimately conclusive, therefore does not contradict the
assumption of diet as one of several factors predisposing
an individual to DISH (Rogers and Waldron, 2001). A
note of caution is nevertheless appropriate. There are
suggestions that some pathological conditions have an
effect on bone stable isotope values, independent of the
diet of an individual. For example, White and Armelagos
(1997) observed significantly higher bone collagen d15N
American Journal of Physical Anthropology—DOI 10.1002/ajpa
170
G. MÜLDNER AND M.P. RICHARDS
Fig. 5. Males and females buried in the crossing of the priory church in comparison with the individuals buried in other
locations (for faunal data see captions Fig. 2). With one exception (YFG5251) their d-values are significantly depleted in 13C
and 15N: two-sample K-S test nave vs. crossing, P < 0.001 for
both elements; southern cemetery vs. crossing P < 0.01 for
d13C, P < 0.001 for d15N.
ratios in a group of Nubian mummies diagnosed with
osteopenia in comparison with a ‘‘healthy’’ control group.
Katzenberg and Lovell (1999) reported 15N enrichment
of about 1.8% in bone affected by osteomyelitis over
macroscopically healthy bone from the same skeleton.
Although no bone with visible pathological lesions was
sampled for the present study, it therefore cannot be
excluded that physiological rather than dietary factors
are responsible for the isotopic data observed for the
individuals with DISH.
High and low status
At first glance, the Fishergate dataset suggests little
in terms of dietary differences between high and low
status individuals as suggested by their burial location
(Fig. 3). In particular, individuals from the presumed
low status southern cemetery are—although somewhat
more depleted in 13C and 15N—not significantly different from more prestigious areas such as the church or
the claustral buildings (two-sample K-S tests, P > 0.05).
Many of the individuals buried in the southern cemetery are thought to have belonged to the canons’ lay
workforce, and it is therefore likely that they would
have shared at least some of the food from the priory’s
kitchen. The fact that Fishergate’s lay benefactors were
only of very moderate wealth may further serve to blur
differences between the groups. Nevertheless, if the
interpretation of the southern cemetery as ‘‘low status’’
is taken at face value, it has to be concluded that stable
isotope analysis of bone collagen may not always be
sensitive enough to reflect the relative differences in
the consumption of plant and animal protein between
rich and poor which, according to historical accounts,
were substantial in the Later Middle Ages (see above).
Easy access of the lower classes to animal protein in
the form of dairy products or herrings—both known as
relatively inexpensive food items (Dyer, 1998)—are a
possible explanation for the lack of differentiation seen
in the dataset.
Fig. 6. Mean d13C and d15N values (61r) for individuals
buried in different chronological periods (see captions Table 1
for details). Individuals buried in the crossing of the church (all
Period 6a) were excluded to remove bias due to differences
between burial locations. The differences between the remaining
groups are not significant (two sample K-S tests, P > 0.05 for all
elements and groups).
Special burials?
The general distribution of isotopic data from the Fishergate priory indicate that marine protein in varying
proportions played a significant part in the diet of most
individuals. It is therefore surprising that those individuals whose d-values suggest no or relatively little consumption of marine foods (d13C < 19.0%; d15N <
11.5%) appear to be preferentially buried in two locations: the crossing of the church and the cloister garth
(Fig. 3). An explanation for the observed pattern is not
immediately obvious. Documents suggest that by the
Later Middle Ages not only monastics but also higher
status lay people, who would have been buried in these
special locations (see Gilchrist and Sloane, 2005), consumed fish on a regular basis (Woolgar, 2000; Barrett
et al., 2004).
The crossing. The burials in the crossing comprise
males, females, and nonadults. With the exception of
YFG5251, a middle adult (36–45 years of age) male, all
individuals plot significantly lower than the population
mean (Fig. 5). Since more than half of all adults from
the area were sampled, this trend should be robust.
The burials in the crossing are all dated to Period 6a
(13th century) and belong to the earliest interments at
the priory. There is no evidence for a general increase in
the consumption of marine foods from Period 6a to 6b
and 6c across the site as a whole (Fig. 6). It therefore
appears that the individuals from the crossing belonged
to a group separate from the rest, perhaps a family that
was connected with early benefactors of the priory. They
may even have given funds towards the construction of
the first church and were subsequently granted burial in
a specially designated area.
This interpretation as a household group could
account for the fact that several individuals with a similar diet were buried in the same location. However, there
is no easy explanation as to why they did not consume
American Journal of Physical Anthropology—DOI 10.1002/ajpa
DIET AT FISHERGATE
measurable amounts of marine foods when these were
obviously a regular component of the diet of citizens
with a similar status, i.e. those buried in the same period in adjacent areas of the church. As Barrett et al.
(2004) have recently shown, marine fish were increasingly common in York from as early as around AD 1000.
The isotopic evidence from the parish cemetery of St.
Andrew, Fishergate shows, however that fish were being
regularly consumed only by a minority of the population
in the later 11th and 12th centuries (Müldner and Richards, 2007). This data, so far available for one site only,
may of course not be representative of the population of
York as a whole. Combined with the evidence from the
priory phase it suggests, however, that as late as the
early 13th century the observation of lay fasts or perhaps the acceptance of fish as a fasting food was by no
means universal among upper-status families. The majority of historical sources about lay food consumption
date to the 14th century and later (see Dyer, 1998). However, they also show considerable variation in the fasting
regimes of individual households (Woolgar, 2006).
The cloister garth. All four adult males buried in the
cloister garth display relatively low carbon and nitrogen
isotope values, which are closely comparable to those
of the group from the church crossing. Three of these
individuals (YFG7050, 7052, 7053) suffered extensive
perimortem blade injuries and were buried together in a
triple grave. Although the fourth (YFG7016) was
interred a short distance apart, it can be suggested on
the grounds of the isotopic evidence that he was connected to the others by more than just a coincidence in
burial location. Unfortunately, none of these burials can
be dated more precisely than between the 13th to 16th
century (Period 6z).
The cloister garth as a burial location was of varying
significance in Medieval monasteries and, depending on
the religious order, was used for both monastic and secular burial (Gilchrist and Sloane, 2005). Because of their
violent death which ‘‘is difficult to reconcile [with] monastic vows and the expected lifestyle of cloistered canons’’ (Stroud and Kemp, 1993 p 143), it has usually been
assumed that the individuals from Fishergate priory
were lay people. A similar explanation as for the group
from the crossing could therefore be suggested for the
apparent lack of marine foods in their diet. Nevertheless,
the evidence becomes more intriguing when these samples are considered in the context of other individuals
with perimortem trauma buried at the Fishergate priory.
Samples were obtained for nine out of ten individuals
with blade injuries from the priory phase. As Figure 7
shows, with the exception of one young adult male
(YFG1592) from the southern cemetery who plots close
to the population mean, all other samples appear rather
unusual when compared with the males from the site,
with d-values that are either noticeably lower or, in one
case (YFG5720) significantly higher than the rest.
Although burial locations may partly be responsible for
this pattern—apart from the triple burial in the cloister
garth, two of the individuals in question are from the
crossing of the church—this configuration seems at the
very least a curious coincidence.
Blade-injured individuals. The site at Fishergate is
well-known for its unusually high frequency of sharp
force perimortem trauma. In a recent paper, Daniell
(2001) considered possible explanations, including trial
by combat, a specialist hospital for the treatment of
171
Fig. 7. Individuals with perimortem blade injuries in comparison with other males buried at Fishergate (see Table 1 for
details). With exception of YFG1592, all exhibit values that are
either significantly higher or lower than the bulk of the male
samples. For faunal data see captions Figure 2.
weapon injuries at the priory and an unrecorded tradition among the Gilbertines of burying victims of violent
conflict. With the additional information from the stable
isotope data, the latter two possibilities now seem
increasingly likely. The dietary evidence strongly suggests that the blade-injured individuals did not belong to
the ‘‘usual clientele’’ that chose to be buried at Fishergate. Their presence may be best explained if they were
brought to the priory because this was usual practice
whenever men were injured or died as the result of a
violent encounter and their bodies were not claimed for
burial elsewhere. For this, it is not even necessary to
invoke the idea of a universal Gilbertine custom for the
treatment or burial of combat victims. A local burial tradition could already have developed at Fishergate in its
prepriory days. The preceding 11th and 12th century
cemetery of St. Andrews is also notable for a high incidence of perimortem trauma.
While most Period 6 blade-injured individuals from
Fishergate appear unusual because of the apparent lack
of marine protein in their diet, the young male YFG5720
(dated Period 6a/b) is an extreme outlier from the rest of
the population because he evidently consumed significantly more marine foods than any of his contemporaries. At the same time, he exhibits very high d15N values
that could suggest the consumption of high trophic level
marine mammals such as whales or seals were it not for
the fact that these animals were not very widely eaten
in Medieval England. No similar isotopic signature has
been observed for any human in the York dataset (see
Müldner and Richards, 2007), or indeed in any isotopic
data available from early historical England (Richards
et al., 1998; Privat et al., 2002; Müldner and Richards,
2005; Fuller et al., 2006). The closest parallel so far is in
data reported from Medieval Orkney in the Scottish Isles
(Richards et al., 2006). However, the d15N ratio of
YFG5720 is still almost 2% higher than in the Scottish
individuals with similar d13C values. The same is the
case when the individual is compared with human populations, which are known to have subsisted primarily on
marine resources (e.g. Richards and Hedges, 1999; Coltrain et al., 2004). Although this might still suggest that
YFG5720 is a migrant from abroad, his values, unusual
American Journal of Physical Anthropology—DOI 10.1002/ajpa
172
G. MÜLDNER AND M.P. RICHARDS
Fig. 8. Line-of-best-fit computed for the Fishergate population
excluding YFG5720. Note that the outlier nevertheless falls
directly on the regression line, which suggests a diet similar to the
rest of the population, yet with a significantly greater contribution
of marine protein. For faunal data see captions Figure 2.
as they are, nevertheless fit into the context of the Fishergate dataset. They lie directly on a regression line
computed for the priory population when YG5720 is
excluded (Fig. 8). His d-values therefore could be
explained by increased consumption of marine protein in
combination with the diet that was otherwise typical for
York, which included various 15N-enriched foods and
especially pork (Müldner and Richards, 2007).
YFG5720 was buried in the priory’s chapterhouse, a
position often assigned to superiors of the order (Gilchrist and Sloane, 2005; but see Daniell, 1997). If he was
indeed part of the Fishergate community, he must have
kept a separate table. Otherwise the large dietary differences between him and the remainder of the population
could not be explained. At the abbot’s table at Westminster Abbey, for example, fish was served more frequently
and in greater quantities than in the ordinary messes
(Harvey, 1993). The house at Fishergate was only small,
however, and by no means wealthy. It is therefore doubtful whether even its priors could have afforded the very
special life-style that is attested by the stable isotope
data.
The probability of a monastic vocation for YFG5720
has previously been questioned on account of his violent
death (Stroud and Kemp, 1993). If one nevertheless
accepts that his place of burial indicates an affiliation
with the Church, he may have been a high-ranking
cleric from elsewhere in town, perhaps with a political
function in the retinue of the Archbishop of York. Nevertheless, certain lay people also used stricter abstinence
from meat than their peers (usually in favor of fish) as a
means to demonstrate their religious devotion (Woolgar,
2006). If the priory at Fishergate was indeed traditionally the burial place of those who had suffered a violent
death in or around York, then a particularly pious lifestyle, as suggested by his diet, could have been the
reason why YFG5720 was awarded a privileged burial
location in the chapterhouse.
CONCLUSIONS
When the stable isotope data from St. Andrew’s
priory are considered in comparison with other early
historical populations from York, the diversity of diets
that is reflected in the Fishergate dataset is obvious
(Müldner and Richards, 2007). It suggests profound
social differentiation expressed by ways of food consumption that is well known from documentary evidence about Medieval diet. However, when the data are
analyzed in detail, the observed patterns do not conform easily with prior expectations about the diet of
individuals buried in ‘‘high’’ and ‘‘low’’ status locations
or areas reserved for the members of the Gilbertine
order. Instead, they highlight certain groups or individuals that would not necessarily have appeared ‘‘special’’
by other lines of inquiry. Stable isotope data thereby
offer new information for interpreting the complex spatial and social organization of burial at the site.
Although dietary reconstruction by stable isotope analysis may therefore not be sensitive enough to track all
of the inequalities that characterized Medieval food
consumption, this capacity to draw attention to previously unrecognized patterns makes it, in our view, a
much more useful tool than if the data merely reiterated the results of other methods.
The results of this study emphasize the importance of
large sample sizes for identifying real trends within a
population. With the technical advancements of the last
decade it is now possible to analyze greater numbers of
samples with relative ease and at (comparatively) low
costs. We can therefore considerably increase the amount
and quality of new information gained for a particular
site or time period.
Finally, Fishergate priory is of course a special type
of site and its burial population is by no means representative of the inhabitants of Later Medieval York.
Further investigations, especially of nonmonastic cemeteries, are therefore needed to refine or challenge
the interpretations presented here. The data already
available demonstrate that such analyses have great
potential to significantly increase our knowledge of the
complex interactions between life-style and burial in
Medieval England.
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
We gratefully acknowledge the York Archaeological
Trust Finds Department and especially thank Christine
McDonnell, Beverley Shaw, and Annie Jowett for providing samples and much support. We thank Ken Neal and
Andrew Gledhill for assistance with the analytical work,
Chris Woolgar for many instructive discussions, and Ben
Fuller and Mandy Jay for constructive criticism on the
manuscript.
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