This project investigates social mobility in premodern states through a contextualized program of isotopic research at the archaeological site of Teotihuacan, Mexico. Due to the lack of a concrete methodology that can be used to recover information concerning rates of social mobility from archaeological remains, many traditional archaeological models either ignore social mobility or assume that boundaries between socioeconomic strata within archaic states were largely impermeable. In this research, I develop a new methodological approach to the identification of socially mobile individuals in the archaeological record based on changes in the diet across the lifecourse that can be detected through isotopic paleodietary indicators. Drawing upon cross-cultural research surrounding the relationship between diet and socioeconomic status and established methodologies in the biogeochemical analysis of human remains, this methodological approach provides a basis for broader comparative studies evaluating the nature of social mobility within archaic states.
I then test the practical application of this methodology by applying it to a mortuary sample including individuals from distinctive socioeconomic groups from the pre-Hispanic city of Teotihuacan, Mexico. The study recovers and uses the dietary isotope ratios within bone and tooth samples from 81 individuals buried throughout the city 1) to define the dietary correlates of wealth and status at Teotihuacan and 2) to identify individuals displaying lifetime dietary changes consistent with changes in socioeconomic status. In addition to supplementing our current understanding of Teotihuacan foodways and processes of geographic migration into the city, I identify an adult male individual from the La Ventilla B apartment compound who displays dietary changes throughout his life that are consistent with downward socioeconomic mobility from a high status socioeconomic group in early adolescence to an intermediate status group later in adulthood. I conclude by identifying ways to move forward with the comparative archaeology of socioeconomic mobility in premodern contexts and highlight the applicability of archaeological information to our understanding of present-day processes of social mobility.