Assessing the Utility of Dental Calculus in Paleodietary Analysis: A Case Study from West Mexico
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Using dental calculus from 16 individuals, stable isotope analysis demonstrates the role of C4 plants in the diet of the inhabitants of the West Mexican site of El Opeño. When put in a broader context with diverse world populations processed by the Nevada Stable Isotope Lab, samples from West Mexico correspond well with those of known maize agriculturalists. Patterned differences in stable isotope values demonstrate the ability of calculus based paleodietary studies to identify shifts towards increased exploitation of C4 plants through 13C values and the exploitation of high trophic level resources through 15N values. Sample treatment with HCl results in lower atomic carbon to nitrogen (C/N) ratios, and lighter 13C values in all instances. Correlations between 13C and 15N values and C/N ratios in the 474 individuals from world samples indicate that diagenetic alterations are more likely in samples with C/N ratios > 12, as suggested by Eerkens et al. (2014). Excluding samples above the acceptable threshold of 12 impacts mean 13C values, moving them closer to expected dietary signatures.