Reconstructing breastfeeding and weaning practices in the Bronze Age Near East using stable nitrogen isotopes.

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    • Abstract:
      Objectives: Breastfeeding and childhood diet have significant impact on morbidity and mortality within a population, and in the ancient Near East, it is possible to compare bioarchaeological reconstruction of breastfeeding and weaning practices with the scant textual evidence. Materials and Methods: Nitrogen stable isotopes (δ15N) are analyzed here for dietary reconstruction in skeletal collections from five Bronze Age (ca. 2,800–1,200 BCE) sites in modern Lebanon and Syria. We employed Bayesian computational modeling on cross‐sectional stable isotope data of collagen samples (n = 176) mainly from previous studies to test whether the bioarchaeological evidence aligns with the textual evidence of breastfeeding and weaning practices in the region, as well as compare the estimated weaning times to the global findings using the WARN (weaning age reconstruction with nitrogen isotope analysis) Bayesian model. Results: Though the Near East sites in this study had different ecological settings and economic strategies, we found that weaning was introduced to the five sites at 0.5 ± 0.2 years of age and complete weaning occurred around 2.6 ± 0.3 years of age on using the WARN computational model. These weaning processes are within the time suggested by historical texts, though average estimated weaning age on the Mediterranean coast is later than inland sites. Discussion: Compared globally, these Near Eastern populations initiated the weaning process earlier but completed weaning within the global average. Early initial weaning may have created short spacing between pregnancies and a high impact on demographic growth within these agricultural populations, with some variation in subsistence practices accounting for the inland/coastal discrepancies. [ABSTRACT FROM AUTHOR]
    • Abstract:
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