Human diet of premodern mainland Japan: a meta-analysis of carbon and nitrogen stable isotope ratios

by Takumi Tsutaya
Keywords diet; Edo; meta-analysis; stable isotopes; washoku
Created on 2023-05-22




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The development of the modern industrialized food production system resulted in a homogenous human diet in the world. However, it is not clear whether a developed food production system led to the homogenized human diet even in ancient societies. Due to the lack of large archaeological datasets, we know little about the chronological trend and ancient circumstances of dietary homogenization. Here, we compiled carbon and nitrogen stable isotope ratios, the indicator of palaeodiet, of adult human skeletons from premodern mainland Japan (AD 1603−1868, n = 318) to investigate the chronological change in diet. Comparison with datasets from Japan in modern, premodern (Edo), and foraging (Jomon) periods showed that the human diet was rapidly homogenized isotopically in modern times. Premodern people in Japan typically obtained dietary proteins from C3 crops and fish, and the establishment of agriculture created a new isotopic dietary niche compared with the foraging period. Dominant protein contributions from agricultural C3 crops cultivated with organic fertilizers and/or rice that are grown in paddy fields with denitrification increased premodern human nitrogen isotope ratios without increasing their carbon isotope ratios. Diet differed by individuals’ social status or availability of foods, and a unique diet can be seen in people in higher social classes such as the Shogun family. Meta-analysis of stable isotope ratios of archaeological human skeletons enables a comprehensive understanding of human dietary change through time and regional variations.