Seasonality of birth and diet of pigs from stable isotope analyses of tooth enamel (δ18O, δ13C): a modern reference data set from Corsica, France

Delphine Fremondeau, Thomas Cucchi, François Casabianca, Marie Balasse

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

35 Citations (Scopus)


Since domestication during the mid 11th millennium BP in the Near East and the 8th millennium BP in China, the pig has played an important role in human diet and economy. The objective of this study is to evaluate the potential of stable oxygen and carbon isotopes sequential analyses of pig tooth enamel to investigate pig seasonality of birth and diet, as these are important parameters for the reconstruction of pig herding strategies in ancient societies.

A pilot study was performed on a modern reference set composed of five free-range Corsican domestic pigs and four Corsican feral pigs. Tooth enamel from the mandibular incisors (I1, I2), molars (M2, M3) and canines (C) were sampled sequentially to map the stable oxygen and carbon isotope records in the pig mandible.

The sequences of δ18O published in this paper may be used as a reference data set for births grouped in mid-autumn and late winter. The δ13C values measured in the wild pigs constitute the first reference set for a wild population living in a Mediterranean environment. Results show that among all sampled teeth (I1, I2, C, M1 and M2), the combination of the sequences of δ18O measured in the first and second incisors provides the most effective data for determination of birth seasonality. The sequences of δ18O measured in the second and third molars were too short and/or dampened to be interpreted in terms of seasonality. In domestic pigs, male evergrowing canines provide a one and a half year record, allowing observation of short-term seasonal variations in the isotopic composition of diet.

Applied to archaeological assemblages, the joint stable isotope analysis of incisors and canines will enable the qualification of the seasonal rhythm of pig herding practices, including slaughtering strategies, in more concrete terms. These practices are directly linked to the modalities of pork production but also to the availability of food resources.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2023-2035
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Archaeological Science
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2012


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