Trophic ecology of a Late Pleistocene early modern human from tropical Southeast Asia inferred from zinc isotopes

Nicolas Bourgon, Klervia Jaouen, Anne Marie Bacon, Elise Dufour, Jeremy McCormack, N. Han Tran, Manuel Trost, Denis Fiorillo, Tyler E. Dunn, Clément Zanolli, Alexandra Zachwieja, Philippe Duringer, Jean Luc Ponche, Quentin Boesch, Pierre Olivier Antoine, Kira E. Westaway, Renaud Joannes-Boyau, Eric Suzzoni, Sébastien Frangeul, Françoise CrozierFrançoise Aubaile, Elise Patole-Edoumba, Thonglith Luangkhoth, Viengkeo Souksavatdy, Souliphane Boualaphane, Thongsa Sayavonkhamdy, Phonephanh Sichanthongtip, Daovee Sihanam, Fabrice Demeter, Laura L. Shackelford, Jean Jacques Hublin, Thomas Tütken

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Scopus citations


Tam Pà Ling, a cave site in northeastern Laos, has yielded the earliest skeletal evidence of Homo sapiens in mainland Southeast Asia. The reliance of Pleistocene humans in rainforest settings on plant or animal resources is still largely unstudied, mainly due to poor collagen preservation in fossils from tropical environments precluding stable nitrogen isotope analysis, the classical trophic level proxy. However, isotopic ratios of zinc (Zn) in bioapatite constitute a promising proxy to infer trophic and dietary information from fossil vertebrates, even under adverse tropical taphonomic conditions. Here, we analyzed the zinc isotope composition (66Zn/64Zn expressed as δ66Zn value) in the enamel of two teeth of the Late Pleistocene (63–46 ka) H. sapiens individual (TPL1) from Tam Pà Ling, as well as 76 mammal teeth from the same site and the nearby Nam Lot cave. The human individual exhibits relatively low enamel δ66Zn values (+0.24‰) consistent with an omnivorous diet, suggesting a dietary reliance on both plant and animal matter. These findings offer direct evidence of the broad utilization of resources from tropical rainforests by one of the earliest known anatomically modern humans in Southeast Asia.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number103075
JournalJournal of Human Evolution
StatePublished - Dec 2021
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 Elsevier Ltd


  • Diet
  • Enamel
  • Homo sapiens
  • Hunter-gatherer
  • Stable carbon isotopes
  • Tam Pà Ling


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