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Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Polish "Goths" enjoyed their millet, while Polish "Vikings" did not


As far as I know, this thesis from the Ohio State University is the first study on dietary changes in what is now Poland from the Neolithic to the Medieval period.

Interestingly, Wielbark culture "Goths" really enjoyed their millet. On the other hand, purported Viking settlers along the Vistula seemed to have largely stuck to their Scandinavian eating habits, almost snubbing millet outright in the process. Why is this important, you might ask? Well...

The human samples studied here show evidence for consumption of millet, a uniquely Slavic cultigen in Europe that may be useful in studying Slavic migrations. My stable isotope data track millet consumption in Poland back to the Neolithic period (approximately 2,000 BC).

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Millet was cultivated in Poland since the Neolithic, but increased significantly in the Roman Era (Wasylikowka et al. 1991: 227). Millet is common among Slavic populations and has been documented in Southern and Eastern Europe by numerous paleobotanical (Polcyn 2002; Pyrgała 1970; Rösch et al. 1992; Wasylikowa et al. 1991; Zohary and Hopf 1988) and stable isotope investigations (Le Huray and Schutkowski 2005; Murray and Schoeninger 1988; Reitsema et al. 2010). Stable isotope studies in Western Europe (e.g.: Netherlands and Britain) indicate an absence of millet in human diet during and preceding the medieval period (Randsborg 1985; Richards et al. 2006; Schutkowski et al. 1999). This East-West dichotomy suggests Slavs had a cultural preference for millet (Dembińska 1999).


The Roman-era cemetery at Rogowo was excavated in 1999 and 2000. The cemetery includes 137 inhumation and 151 cremation burials (Fig. 4.2). Biritual cemeteries such as this are characteristic of the Wielbark culture, which occupied Poland during the 2nd and 3rd centuries AD. It is possible that Wielbark populations were one of several referred to by the Romans as “Goths” (Heather 1996). It is also possible that the Wielbark are early Slavs from which modern Slavs are descended (for discussion, see Piontek 2006).

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The δ13C values from Rogowo indicate millet contributed between 0% and 35% to overall diet, depending on the individual. The fact that δ13C and δ15N values are not positively correlated also supports an interpretation of direct millet consumption, rather than marine fish, anadromous fish or C4-foddered animal consumption.

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Data from Murray and Schoeninger (1988) represent an Iron Age population from Slovenia that consumed terrestrial plant and animal resources with a C4 signal. This C4 signal is either via direct consumption of millet, or via consumption of animals foddered on millet. Data from LeHuray and Schutkowski (2005) represent two La Tène populations from the modern day Czech Republic, and individuals from Hallstatt sites in Austria. Data from Tafuri et al. (2009) represent another diet with a C4 signal from Bronze Age Italy.

Comparing European samples, δ15N values among the Slovenian, Czech and Polish samples are very similar, ranging from approximately 8.5‰ to 11.0‰. The δ13Ccoll values at Rogowo are intermediate, but more closely resemble values from La Tene Czech individuals with low millet consumption than values from Iron Age Slovenia with high millet consumption. This suggests a terrestrial-based diet including millet at Rogowo.

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On closer examination of the collagen data from Kałdus site 4, there seem to be two groups of data points that I emphasize by separating them with an otherwise arbitrary line in Figure 7.9. One of these arbitrary clusters plots near data from Viking and medieval Sweden representing populations that reportedly consumed C3 and marine foods, but no millet (Kosiba et al. 2007). The Swedish population is also pictured in Figure 7.9 where it is clearly distinct from the millet-consuming Kałdus population.


Like individual K4-13A-M, individual K4-60-M was buried with a bronze bowl at his feet, an element of Scandinavian style burials (Biermann 2008; Chudziak 2003). Interestingly, his δ13Cap signature was next to the lowest at Kałdus site 4 (-14.05‰) and one of only two to indicate a diet devoid of millet. This suggests he had migrated from Scandinavia, where millet is not documented in diet during the medieval period (Eriksson et al. 2008; Kjellström et al. 2009; Kosiba et al. 2007; Liden and Nelson 1994; Linderholm et al. 2008; Wasylikowa et al. 1991). The other individual with very low δ13C isotope signatures at Kałdus site 4 is K4-192-F. This female may also have migrated from a region where millet was not consumed. Another single burial exhibiting Scandinavian elements is individual K4-101-F, who was interred in a wooden chamber. Like K4-60-M, her isotope values also suggest no or very little millet.

Of course, only high-resolution ancient DNA from these remains will be able to confirm whether they belonged to settlers of Scandinavian origin. However, based on the stable isotope results I don't hold out much hope for the Wielbark Culture skeletons from Rogowo showing any explicit genetic links to Scandinavia. On the other hand, it seems as if those Viking-like burials from Kaldus really did belong to Vikings.

Reference...

Laurie Jean Reitsema, Stable Carbon and Nitrogen Isotope Analysis of Human Diet Change in Prehistoric and Historic Poland, Dissertation, The Ohio State University, 2012.

See also...

First direct evidence of genetic continuity in West and Central Poland from the Iron Age to the present