Thesis abstract ‘Spatially Resolved Strontium Isotope Micro-Analysis of Lower and Middle Palaeolithic Fauna from Archaeological Sites in Israel and Southern France’

03rd May 2014

Photograph of sectioned bovid tooth from the Mousterian archaeological site of Rescoundudou in the Massif Central France, showing ablation spots from LA-MC-ICPMS strontium isotope analysis.

Photograph of sectioned bovid tooth from the Mousterian archaeological site of Rescoundudou in the Massif Central France, showing ablation spots from LA-MC-ICPMS strontium isotope analysis.

Ian Moffat

PhD, Research School of Earth Sciences, The Australian National University, Canberra, December 2013

The use of strontium isotope analysis to provenance biominerals such as bone and teeth has become a regularly applied component of archaeological research. This method works by comparing the isotopic composition of these materials with regional bioavailable soil values, allowing an estimation of the distance and vector of an individual’s mobility. New advances in analytical equipment have facilitated the spatially resolved micro-analysis of strontium isotope composition using laser ablation sampling, allowing intrasample heterogeneity to be quantified. This provides the opportunity to determine not only the overall provenance of a material, but also the degree of mobility during biomineral formation.

This research applies laser ablation multi-collector inductively coupled plasma mass spectroscopy (LA-MCICPMS) to 90 teeth of Lower and Middle Palaeolithic faunal prey from Lower and Middle Palaeolithic archaeological sites within Israel and France. These sites span a crucial period in human evolution, characterised by the radiation of multiple hominin species and by dynamic oscillations of climate, with attendant changes in fauna and flora. The strontium isotope values from LA-MC-ICPMS analysis in this thesis show a high level of intrasample variability, which would not have been captured by a traditional analytical methodology. This suggests that, despite some problems in obtaining accurate results due to offsets between solution and laser values, strontium isotope studies that do not utilise spatially resolved micro-analysis are unable to accurately determine mobility.

The results of this research demonstrate that fauna from the archaeological sites of interest—including Amud, Qafzeh, Tabun, Skhull, Holon, Bois Roche, Le Moustier, La Chapelleaux- Saints, Les Fieux, Pech de l’Aze II and Rescoundudou—appear to have patterns of mobility that are controlled by variables such as species, marine isotope stages (MIS) and regional physiography. Specifically, Persian fallow deer, bison, mountain goat/chamois and fox are frequently mobile between different geological environments during amelogenesis, while wild boar and rhinoceros are sessile. The calculated range of distance for minimum possible mobility for each sample is large, ranging from 0–350 km. The median values for minimum possible mobility for each species suggest that wild boar, bison and fox are mobile over the greatest distance, while Bos, rhinoceros, Persian fallow deer and unidentified deer are mobile over the smallest. Furthermore, fauna in MIS 4 and 3 are significantly more mobile than in MIS 6 and 5. Fauna from France are more mobile than those from Israel, which is attributed to the location of the archaeological sites adjacent to significant river systems that could serve as conduits of mobility, even during inhospitable climate periods. Overall, these insights show that strontium isotope analysis can be usefully applied to quantifying mobility on a broad temporal and geographic scale, rather than simply being used, as is typical, for locating the source of material within a specific archaeological site.

Moffat, I.
June 2014
Type: Thesis abstract

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