Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Professor H.P. Schwarcz


This study involves the reconstruction of diet for three cemetery populations (ca. 800 BC to AD 350) from the Dakhleh Oasis, Egypt, using stable carbon and nitrogen isotope analysis in conjunction with documentary and archaeological evidence. Very few isotopic paleodietary studies have been conducted on samples from extremely arid conditions, nor have they had the luxury of including documentary and archaeological evidence of diet. Results indicate a shift in diet from the early cemeteries ('ein Tirghi and Kellis 1 cemeteries) where inhabitants consumed a diet composed mainly of C3 foods, to a diet that included millet (a C4 plant) by the early Roman period (Kellis 2 cemetery). Comparisons within cemetery populations, particularly Kellis 2, reveal sex and age differences in diet. Adult males were found to be enriched in 13 C over females, indicating a heavier reliance on either millet or the flesh of cows and/or goat (which were found to be significantly enriched in 13 C in comparison to the other animals). Infants' δ 13 C and δ15 N values were also found to be significantly elevated in comparison to adults. The enrichment in 13 C suggests that supplementary foods of cow's and/or goat's milk was introduced at a very young age (before 6 months). Comparisons of δ13 C values between archaeological and modern botanical remains suggest that towards the end of the occupation of the Roman period site of Kellis the agricultural fields were becoming increasingly laden with salt. This may have contributed to the ultimate demise and abandonment of this site during the 4th century AD. These findings suggest that by the Roman period the inhabitants of the Oasis had changed their dietary regime through the introduction of millet, reflecting changes in the economic and social structure of greater Egypt during this time period.

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