"Calling all archaeologists" - New publication in Rapid Communications in Mass Spectrometry by researchers from the Department of Archaeology

Stable isotope research group of the MPI-SHH provides recommendations on terminology, methodology, data handling, and reporting when developing and reviewing stable isotope applications in archaeology

February 09, 2018

The stable isotope research group at the Department of Archaeology, Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, led by Dr. Patrick Roberts, has recently published guidelines for stable isotope research in archaeology alongside colleagues from the University of York and Christian Albrechts-Universitat, Kiel. Published in the prestigious international Mass Spectrometry journal, Rapid Communications in Mass Spectrometry, the team outlines best practice in this field within archaeological science. It is hoped that the article, in Open Access form (available here), will circulate widely among students, researchers, and reviewers encountering stable isotope analysis for the first time, particularly in parts of the world with less access to archaeological science information flow.

Scatterplot of δ15N and δ13C data for two groups overlain by Ellipses calculated at the 50% and 95% confidence intervals using the R[67] function 'Ellipse'.

The archaeological literature has seen an exponential increase in references to stable isotopes over the last 50 years, aided by reductions in equipment costs, an increasing number of accessible laboratories, and a democratization of stable isotope knowledge. Stable isotope analysis of human tissues and faunal and plant remains can be used to study past diets, ecologies, and environments. Yet, while increasingly sophisticated studies of pretreatment, new compound-specific developments, and understandings of ecological variability are merging from archaeologically-focused laboratories, many papers still appear without appropriate quality control, basic calibration criteria, methodological information, and reporting considerations.

Roberts and colleagues have sought to disseminate best practices in this regard relating to the bulk stable carbon and nitrogen isotope analysis of organics, bulk stable carbon and oxygen isotope analysis of carbonates, single compound stable carbon and nitrogen isotope analysis on amino acids isolated from, bone collagen and hair keratin, and stable carbon and hydrogen isotope analysis of fatty acids from artefacts, bone, and sediments. It is hoped that this will benefit the ever-growing number of scholars engaging with stable isotope analysis in archaeology around the world, ensuring that archaeologists continue to make substantial contributions to cross-disciplinary advancements in mass spectrometry methods and applications.

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