Tracing residential mobility during the Merovingian period: An isotopic analysis of human remains from the Upper Rhine Valley, Germany

Christine Schuh, Cheryl A. Makarewicz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Objectives: Written sources have provided information about the rise of Merovingian power and their territorial conquests after the disintegration of the Western Roman Empire, but the extent to which altered power relations in the newly annexed territories reshaped regional and local communities is poorly understood. The early medieval cemetery of Dirmstein, located in the Upper Rhine Valley, is one of the rare sites bearing archeological evidence of simultaneous use by an indigenous community and newcomers from outside the Merovingian core area, and it offers the opportunity to investigate residential mobility at the former Roman Rhine frontier during the Merovingian period. Materials and Methods: We conducted strontium, oxygen, and carbon isotope analyses on human tooth enamel recovered from 25 sixth century inhumations at the Dirmstein cemetery to establish the presence of newcomers to the Upper Rhine region. Results: The low δ13C values exhibited by the Dirmstein individuals revealed ingestion of a C3 terrestrial based diet, with no detectable contribution of C4 plants, which indicates the absence of individuals from regions where a C4-based diet was common. Human 87Sr/86Sr values well outside the local range of bioavailable strontium, in combination with low δ18O values, suggest a notable presence of newcomers from more eastern or high altitude regions. Conclusions: The isotopic evidence indicates that residential mobility was important and new settlers, most likely from outside the Merovingian core area, contributed to the settlement of the northern Upper Rhine Valley during the sixth century AD.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)155-169
Number of pages15
JournalAmerican Journal of Physical Anthropology
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1 Sep 2016
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2016 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.


  • Early Middle Ages
  • enamel carbonate
  • oxygen

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Anatomy
  • Anthropology


Dive into the research topics of 'Tracing residential mobility during the Merovingian period: An isotopic analysis of human remains from the Upper Rhine Valley, Germany'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this