To date, and to the best of the authors’ knowledge, no human or faunal post-medieval skeletal remains from Perth and Kinross have been subject to stable isotope analysis. However, materials almost certainly are in existence, housed in regional or national museums.
The utility of stable isotope analyses in gaining insight into the life and diet of populations through time has been widely demonstrated and utilised in England (eg Henderson et al 2014; Bleasdale et al 2019; Dhaliwal et al 2020). However, there have been very few isotopic studies in Scotland addressing dietary transitions from the medieval to the post-medieval period (but see Lamb et al 2012; Britton et al 2018). No post-medieval skeletal assemblages from Perth and Kinross have yet been isotopically analysed. Nonetheless it would be most valuable to conduct dietary and mobility studies within the area in order to characterise the influence of the various socio-economic transformations which affected the local population after the Reformation. Using stable carbon and nitrogen isotope analyses, it is also possible to investigate breastfeeding and weaning customs as a potential indicator of changing societal norms (Britton et al 2018), which could be applied to the city of Perth were sufficient materials identified. Furthermore, the silting of the River Tay at the end of the 16th century must have had a considerable impact on the local population, both of the city, as well as its rural surroundings (Ditchburn 1988; Bowler et al 2004). Characterising this time period isotopically would help researchers gain insight into the changing lifeways of the local population during a transformative time period.
In addition to analysing suitable human skeletal remains it would be crucial to create a post-medieval faunal baseline. Comparing post-medieval faunal isotope data to medieval patterns would allow the identification of possible changes in animal husbandry practices, which in turn would influence the local population.
The Anglo-Scottish treaty of Union of 1707 was perceived to offer opportunities for economic expansion, and the coming century accompanied by the parallel industrial and agricultural revolutions would have undoubtedly impacted the lifeways of the Scottish population. In studies in England, the developmental and health differences between urban and rural populations have been well demonstrated from a palaeopathological perspective (eg Newman and Gowland 2017; Gowland et al 2018; Newman et al 2019). Lifestyle changes associated with the increasingly industrialised society can also be observed in the dietary trends, as well as changing breastfeeding practices of these populations (Nitsch et al 2006; 2011). Furthermore, utilising incremental analysis of dentinal collagen it has also been possible to characterise changes in early life diet and potentially identify significant events of nutritional stress in this period, such as the Irish Famine (Beaumont et al 2013). However, in Scotland, the isotopic analysis of assemblages from this time period has been so far neglected. The exploration of the isotopic patterns associated with increasing societal, political and economic transformations would be of great value.
Considering the lack of isotopic data available from the period from Perth and Kinross, the main priorities should be:
- Identifying suitable assemblages for stable isotope analyses. In addition to the study of post-medieval human remains it is crucial to sample local and contemporary faunal material to appropriately characterise the local food web.
- Considering the stable carbon, nitrogen and sulphur isotopic output of the radiocarbon dating process, samples should be selected accordingly, to maximise the information gained via a destructive sampling method.
- Radiocarbon-dated skeletal material from the period should be identified, the stable carbon, nitrogen (and possibly sulphur) isotope data produced during the RC dating process should be collected and analysed (human and fauna alike).
Were sufficient materials to be obtained, the following questions could be approached using stable isotope analyses.