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High-resolution serial sampling for nitrogen stable isotope analysis of archaeological mammal teeth

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journal contribution
posted on 31.07.2020, 11:05 by Eric J Guiry, Joseph C Hepburn, Michael P Richards
We present the results of an archaeological application of a rapid method for high-resolution stable nitrogen isotope (δ15N) measurements of time-series samples of tooth dentine. Over 250 analyses of samples of untreated dentine powder taken at continuous millimeter intervals along the growth axis of archaeological pig tusks were compared to results from a subset of tandem δ15N measurements of extracted and purified tooth collagen from the same teeth. Samples were also taken at 0.25 mm depth intervals to test the effect of depth with respect to temporal resolution of diet. Results show that δ15N measurements of untreated dentine powder from well-preserved archaeological teeth provide: 1) broadly comparable δ15N values to extracted and purified collagen, and 2) a rapid method of assessing dietary change over much shorter time intervals than is possible using extracted collagen. Analyses also show that large changes in δ15N values can occur across the thickness of a tooth due to the inclusion of multiple growth layers and/or secondary dentine, which results in a significant time-averaging lag in dietary representation, as demonstrated by samples that analyze collagen from the full width of the tooth wall. This method will also be useful for initial prescreening of samples to select for specimens of interest before undertaking further, more rigorous, sample pre-treatment and measurement.



Journal of Archaeological Science, Volume 69, May 2016, Pages 21-28

Author affiliation

School of Archaeology and Ancient History


AM (Accepted Manuscript)

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Journal of Archaeological Science




21 - 28


Elsevier BV





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