Isotopic Analysis for Palaeodiet and Geolocation

Author(s): Tamsin O'Connell

Year: 2018


Isotopic analysis as a method of assessing diet or geographical origin is now ubiquitous in archaeology, to the point where seemingly no project is complete without it. The relative ease of sample preparation and increasing prevalence of isotope mass specs has contributed to its rapid growth. Yet despite its ease of execution, it is not a cut-and-dried technique, and data interpretation can be complex. The greater use by specialists and non-specialists has resulted in studies that range from excellent to dubious, from groundbreaking to mundane, even banal. Such a situation has also arisen in other areas of the archaeological sciences, making them victims of their own success. Only greater understanding of the strengths and limitations of such analyses can improve the overall quality of work in this field.

This paper outlines the principles of carbon, nitrogen, oxygen and strontium isotopic analyses. It illustrates the technique's scope, identifies some key assumptions as well as pitfalls and problems, and covers some of the common misconceptions in how the method is applied. Whilst I hope not to be prescriptive, I aim to offer some guidance in how such work should be approached, from the perspective of both practitioner and consumer.

Cite this Record

Isotopic Analysis for Palaeodiet and Geolocation. Tamsin O'Connell. Presented at The 82nd Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, Washington, DC. 2018 ( tDAR id: 443776)

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Record Identifiers

Abstract Id(s): 20232