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Lecture | Studium Generale

Recent Advances in the Study of Ancient Migrations: Isotopes and Isoscapes

Wednesday 5 December 2018
Cleveringaplaats 1
2311 BD Leiden

One of the most widely used methods in archaeology to study ancient migrations, strontium (Sr) isotope analysis, has been applied to a vast array of different studies across the globe. These studies have demonstrated that migrations were frequent, dynamic and highly variable within and between different populations throughout history. One major criticism of these approaches as applied to migration research, however, is that most studies often do not advance beyond simply distinguishing between locals and immigrants (nonlocals) but are unable to identify the origins of immigrants. The ability to use isotope signatures obtained from human skeletal remains to identify geographic origins is hampered by the fact that different potential source areas can possess similar isotopic ranges. Two approaches offer great potential for overcoming this limitation: 1) the use of multiple isotope proxies, and 2) the use of isoscapes (models or maps of spatial isotopic variation). Isoscapes have yet to be extensively utilized for migration or provenance studies in archaeological primarily because no accurate regional-scale strontium isoscape had been generated for the appropriate sample material. The effectiveness of combining multiple isotope data with isoscapes to identify the geographic origins of ancient immigrants will be discussed and demonstrated by recent research from the Caribbean region.

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