isotope analysis

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Changing diets in Pictish Portmahomack

Isotopic analysis of skeletons excavated from a graveyard in the Scottish Highlands has revealed a story of changing diets among the Pictish and medieval communities at Portmahomack.

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Science Notes – Oxygen isotope tree-ring dating at the Tower of London

Dendrochronology (dating timbers by analysing tree-rings) is a vital weapon in the archaeological arsenal, and one that is often mentioned in CA. This month’s ‘Science Notes’ features a new approach, using stable isotopes, which could help date samples that cannot normally be analysed using traditional methods. We will be looking at how this method was able to shed light on the history of construction at the Tower of London.

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Investigating the isotopes of the Blick Mead dog

In 2016, a single canine tooth was found at Blick Mead – a major Mesolithic site 2km from Stonehenge. Now further isotopic analyses have revealed a complicated picture of the dog’s diet and possible migration patterns.

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Review – The many faces of Tudor England

A new temporary exhibition presents the latest research into the remains recovered from the Mary Rose, revealing new details about a diverse crew who hailed from both Britain and abroad, and setting them in the context of Tudor society.

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Monumental meeting points in Neolithic Britain

Previous isotopic analysis of animal remains from Durrington Walls, a large henge enclosure 3km northeast of Stonehenge, demonstrated that both cattle and pigs were brought to the complex from across Britain (see CA 334). Now, a further study looking at pig bones from three other nearby Neolithic sites, as well as examining the Durrington Wall pigs more thoroughly, has found that this was not an anomaly – it seems that all these complexes served as meeting points for people from across the British Isles.

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Science Notes – In the limelight: how modern agriculture could affect isotopic studies

The study of isotopes – chemical signatures preserved in our bones and teeth that shed light on diet and movements during life – are increasingly becoming a major part of archaeology, frequently redefining how we look at different periods and featuring in most post-excavation analyses. But we still have a long way to go in terms of being able to use them to confidently pinpoint a person’s specific origins. At the moment, most isotopic maps are still fairly crude and the science is better at identifying local vs non-local rather than confidently determining exact locations. A new study, recently published in Science Advances, has highlighted the need to make sure these maps are more accurate, bringing up the potential impact that agricultural practices might have in certain regions.

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Out of the Ashes: Seeking the origins of the first people of Stonehenge

In a research project originally published in Scientific Reports, Dr Christophe Snoeck and researchers from the University of Oxford, the Vrije Universiteit Brussel, the Université libre de Bruxelles, the Muséum national d’Histoire naturelle, and University College London have used isotope analysis to examine some of the cremated human remains excavated at Stonehenge, with fascinating results. Their findings highlight not only how mobile some Neolithic populations were, and how important Stonehenge was to them, but also the lengths to which they may have been willing to go to bury their dead on the site.

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Current Archaeology 344

On 26 October 1918, the nation received an unusual gift: Stonehenge. The monument had been bought at auction by Sir Cecil Chubb, who later presented it to the British government. Marking the centenary of this episode, we are exploring one of the newest discoveries from the site: the origins of some of the people whose […]

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Science Notes – Weaning ourselves off bone for isotopic analysis?

With the remarkable potential of isotopic analysis making recent headlines (see p.18), it seems apt to talk a bit more about this technique. Among the wealth of archaeological questions isotope analysis can help to answer are: where was an individual born and raised, did they migrate during their lifetimes, what did they predominately eat, and when were they weaned? As this is a relatively new and ever-evolving methodology, though, some of the wrinkles are still being ironed out – and one of the biggest questions currently being explored is whether bone is as effective as teeth in reflecting the isotopic values that a person accumulated in life.

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Current Archaeology 342

Even a brand new town can hold ancient secrets. That is certainly the case at Sherford, currently under construction outside Plymouth, where wide-ranging excavations have revealed a wealth of clues to much earlier occupation spanning thousands of years. Some of the Sherford structures are enigmatic, but the estate covered in our next feature is downright […]

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