Geochemical Analyses of Marmot Teeth to Evaluate the Potential for Overlapping Foraging Ranges in Two Siberian Human Cemetery Populations

Rob Losey, Alexei Ivanov, Stanislav V. Palesskiy, Vladimir I. Bazaliiskii

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Stable carbon and nitrogen isotope analyses of human remains from two contemporaneous cemeteries in the Lake Baikal region of Russia indicate similarity in diets among some individuals buried in these two locations. Given that the Middle Holocene cemeteries are only 75 km apart, these dietary data could indicate overlap in foraging ranges between the two human cemetery populations. Incisors from Siberian marmots (Marmota sibirica) are the most abundant type of faunal remains recovered from both cemeteries. Siberian marmots are a steppe species and hibernate over much of the year, being readily accessible to humans only during the summer and early fall. They are a fat-rich and desirable food item today in adjacent portions of Central Asia. To test if the dietary similarity between the two cemetery human groups might be due to overlapping hunting areas for marmots, Barium/Calcium and Strontium/Calcium ratios in a sample of marmot teeth were examined. The results of these analyses indicate very little overlap in the trace element values for the marmot teeth from the two cemeteries, which suggests the two human groups were procuring marmots in different regions. We argue that the dietary similarity seen between the two cemeteries can be best accounted for by shared use of isotopically similar fish moving between Lake Baikal and its tributary, the Angara River. An alternative explanation is that the overlapping isotope values are a result of human migration between the two cemetery regions.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)493-511
Number of pages19
JournalJournal of Ethnobiology
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2016

Bibliographical note

The reviewers and editors of this paper are thanked for their very constructive comments, which greatly improved the paper. Special thanks are offered to Andrzej Weber for his advice and support in relation to this research. Tatiana Nomokonova provided extremely useful translations of some of the Russian literature, which is greatly appreciated. Aaron Coons is acknowledged for providing the map used in the paper. Funding for this research was provided by grants from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (410-2008-0402 and 412-2011-1001).


  • trace elements
  • provenience
  • hunter-gatherers
  • Lake Baikal
  • marmots


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