Status and gender differences in diet at Mound 72, Cahokia, revealed by isotopic analysis of bone

Stanley H. Ambrose, Jane Buikstra, Harold W. Krueger

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

221 Scopus citations


Cahokia Mound 72 contains 272 human burials dating to the Lohmann and early Stirling phases (ca. 1050-1150 AD) of the Mississippian period. Substantial status- and gender-related differences in burial style are apparent. Some burials are associated with large quantities of prestigious grave goods, suggesting high status. Mass graves of young adult females with skeletal indicators of poor health suggest low status and nutritional stress. Nitrogen isotope ratios of bone collagen show that high status individuals ate much more animal protein, but carbon isotope ratios of collagen suggest these individuals ate only ca. 10% less maize than lower status individuals. Apatite carbon isotopes show low status females ate ca. 60% more maize than high status individuals, which confirms the large nitrogen isotope difference of females in mass graves. These results indicate high and low status individuals had significantly different diet compositions and nutritional qualities. The stable isotope evidence supports paleopathological data for status-related differences in health, and dental morphological data for presumed genetic differences in origin. These data also provide insights into the nutrition- and health-related dimension of regional hierarchical organization of settlements and social inequality of this complex chiefdom in the greater Cahokia region.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)217-226
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Anthropological Archaeology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 2003
Externally publishedYes


  • Bioarchaeology
  • Bone chemistry
  • Cahokia
  • Carbon isotopes
  • Gender
  • Maize agriculture
  • Mississippian
  • Nitrogen isotopes
  • Paleodiet
  • Status

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Human Factors and Ergonomics
  • Archaeology
  • History
  • Archaeology


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