Dorset Pre-Inuit and Beothuk foodways in Newfoundland, ca. AD 500-1829
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Archaeological research on the Canadian island of Newfoundland increasingly demonstrates that the island's subarctic climate and paucity of terrestrial food resources did not restrict past Pre-Inuit (Dorset) and Native American (Beothuk) hunter-gatherer populations to a single subsistence pattern. This study first sought to characterize hunter-gatherer diets over the past 1500 years; and second, to assess the impact of European colonization on Beothuk lifeways by comparing the bone chemistry of Beothuk skeletal remains before and after the intensification of European settlement in the early 18th century. We employed radiocarbon dating and stable carbon and nitrogen isotope ratio analysis of bulk bone collagen from both Dorset (n = 9) and Beothuk (n = 13) cultures, including a naturally mummified 17th century Beothuk individual. Carbon and nitrogen isotope analysis of 108 faunal samples from Dorset and Beothuk archaeological sites around the island were used as a dietary baseline for the humans. We combined our results with previously published isotope data and radiocarbon dates from Dorset (n = 12) and Beothuk (n = 18) individuals and conducted a palaeodietary analysis using Bayesian modelling, cluster analysis and comparative statistical tests. Dorset diets featured more marine protein than those of the Beothuk, and the diets of Beothuk after the 18th century featured less high trophic level marine protein than those of individuals predating the 18th century. Despite inhabiting the same island, Dorset and Beothuk cultures employed markedly different dietary strategies, consistent with interpretations of other archaeological data. Significantly, European colonization had a profound effect on Beothuk lifeways, as in response to the increasing European presence on the coast, the Beothuk relied more extensively on the limited resources of the island's boreal forests and rivers.