Encyclopedia of Geoarchaeology

2017 Edition
| Editors: Allan S. Gilbert

Strontium isotopes

  • James H. BurtonEmail author
Reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-1-4020-4409-0_28


Isotopes: Atoms of the same element that can differ in their weights by having a different number of neutrons in the nucleus.


In archaeology, strontium isotope studies are primarily applied to human teeth to identify immigrants and study human mobility. The method has also been used in attempts to determine the provenience of other materials such as wooden beams, maize, wool, glass, and pottery; these exercises have achieved varying degrees of success depending upon the effects of contamination and the intrinsic isotopic variability in geologic materials.

The use of strontium isotopes to study human mobility was first proposed by Jonathon Ericson (1985), who noted the geographic variation in the stable isotopes of 87Sr/86Sr and the fact that this ratio is maintained essentially unchanged in the human skeleton from its value in the local environment with no apparent changes imposed by metabolism. When dental enamel develops during the first few years of life,...

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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of AnthropologyUniversity of WisconsinMadisonUSA