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The CECD is an AHRC funded research group dedicated to examining the evolutionary underpinnings of human cultural behaviour, past and present. more>

Page Title - projects
Phase 1: Spatial dimensions of cultural evolution: Project 040
Human mobility and the prehistoric spread of farming: Isotopes in archaeological skeletons
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Alex Bentley (Department of Archaeology & Anthropology, Bristol University)
Mark Lake (Institute of Archaeology, University College London)

Bentley is using bioarchaeology to explore how farming replaced hunter-gathering in central Europe and mainland Southeast Asia, by characterizing prehistoric human mobility through strontium and oxygen isotope analysis of archaeological skeletons. A hypothesis is that socially-distinct groups, perhaps farmers, hunter-gatherers and pastoralists, interacted and possibly intermarried during the transition to agriculture, which could explain why mtDNA and Y-chromosomes have different geographic distributions (Bentley et al. 2002, 2003a, 2003b).

The method involves comparing the strontium isotope signature (87Sr/86Sr) in the tooth enamel of an archaeological skeleton to signatures from the geologic region, to identify where the diet was obtained during childhood (when the enamel was forming). This is complemented with measurements of oxygen isotopes, which, though more complex, ultimately reflect altitude, distance from the sea and average climate where an animal lived. To interpret the isotopic signatures from humans or animals, one must refer to geological maps for 87Sr/86Sr and maps of d18O variation in precipitation (, as well as measure 87Sr/86Sr and d18O in tooth enamel of local archaeological fauna from key locations (Price et al. 2002; Bentley et al. 2004).

Bentley, R.A. (2013).
Mobility and the diversity of Early Neolithic lives: isotopic evidence from skeletons.. Journal of Anthropological Archaeology. Vol 33:in press.
Bentley, R.A., M. Pietrusewsky, M.T. Douglas & T.C. Atkinson (2005).
Matrilocality during the prehistoric transition to agriculture in Thailand?. Antiquity. Vol 79:865-881.
Bentley, R.A (2005).
Characterising human mobility at Khok Phanom Di by strontium isotope analysis of the skeletons. In: Charles Higham & Rachanie Thosarat (eds.) (ed\s) Khok Phanom Di: Summary and Conclusions. Oxford: Oxbow Books. 159-166.
Bentley, R.A., T.D. Price and E. Stephan (2004).
Determining the local 87Sr/86Sr range for archaeological skeletons: a case study from Neolithic Europe. Journal of Archaeological Science. Vol 31:365-375.
Price, T.D., J. Wahl, G. Kurz, E. Burger-Heinrich, C. Knipper and R. A. Bentley (2003).
Das bandkeramische Gräberfeld von Stuttgart-Mühlhausen: Anthropologische Untersuchungen und chemische Analysen. .. In: Funda, D.T. (ed.) (ed\s) Fundberichte aus Baden-Württemberg. Kommissionsverlag Konrad Theiss Verlag, Stuttgart, Germany,. 23-58.