Stable Isotopic Evidence of Ancient Maya Diet at Caledonia, Cayo District, Belize

A. J. Rand, P. F. Healy, J. J. Awe

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Scopus citations


The skeletal remains of 18 individuals interred at the ancient Maya site of Caledonia (100 to 1000 C.E.), located in the Cayo District of Belize, w ere sampled for stable carbon and nitrogen isotope analysis in order to reconstruct their diet. Stable carbon and nitrogen isotope ratios in 18 bone collagen samples and stable carbon isotope ratios in bioapatite from 15 bone and 6 tooth enamel samples were assessed. Small sample sizes precluded the assessment of dietary variation with respect to age, sex, social status or time period among the Caledonia Maya. However, the sampled individuals consumed a varied diet consisting of maize, supplemented with some C3 plants, terrestrial herbivores and/or lower order freshwater resources such as snails and molluscs and possibly maize-fed animals. This dietary variability with an emphasis on maize is unsurprising given the biological diversity surrounding the site and the known importance of this crop to the ancient Maya. As expected, the isotopic values from Caledonia are similar to those from nearby sites from similar time periods. However, four individuals exhibit a marine dietary signature, possibly indicating inland trade of marine resources from coastal sites, or the migration of coastal people to Caledonia. This study demonstrates the validity of sampling small, fragmented collections from minor Maya centres in order to gain valuable insight into ancient Maya dietary practices.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)401-413
Number of pages13
JournalInternational Journal of Osteoarchaeology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jul 2015
Externally publishedYes


  • Ancient Maya
  • Belize
  • Bioarchaeology
  • Caledonia
  • Carbon
  • Classic Period
  • Isotope analysis
  • Nitrogen

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Archaeology
  • Anthropology
  • Archaeology


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