On the Use of Biomineral Oxygen Isotope Data to Identify Human Migrants in the Archaeological Record: Intra-Sample Variation, Statistical Methods and Geographical Considerations.
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Lightfoot, E., & O'Connell, T. (2016). On the Use of Biomineral Oxygen Isotope Data to Identify Human Migrants in the Archaeological Record: Intra-Sample Variation, Statistical Methods and Geographical Considerations.. PloS one, 11 (4), e0153850. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0153850
Oxygen isotope analysis of archaeological skeletal remains is an increasingly popular tool to study past human migrations. It is based on the assumption that human body chemistry preserves the δ18O of precipitation in such a way as to be a useful technique for identifying migrants and, potentially, their homelands. In this study, the first such global survey, we draw on published human tooth enamel and bone bioapatite data to explore the validity of using oxygen isotope analyses to identify migrants in the archaeological record. We use human δ18O results to show that there are large variations in human oxygen isotope values within a population sample. This may relate to physiological factors influencing the preservation of the primary isotope signal, or due to human activities (such as brewing, boiling, stewing, differential access to water sources and so on) causing variation in ingested water and food isotope values. We compare the number of outliers identified using various statistical methods. We determine that the most appropriate method for identifying migrants is dependent on the data but is likely to be the IQR or median absolute deviation from the median under most archaeological circumstances. Finally, through a spatial assessment of the dataset, we show that the degree of overlap in human isotope values from different locations across Europe is such that identifying individuals' homelands on the basis of oxygen isotope analysis alone is not possible for the regions analysed to date. Oxygen isotope analysis is a valid method for identifying first-generation migrants from an archaeological site when used appropriately, however it is difficult to identify migrants using statistical methods for a sample size of less than c. 25 individuals. In the absence of local previous analyses, each sample should be treated as an individual dataset and statistical techniques can be used to identify migrants, but in most cases pinpointing a specific homeland should not be attempted.
Bone and Bones, Tooth, Dental Enamel, Humans, Oxygen, Oxygen Isotopes, Geography, Archaeology, Transients and Migrants, Europe, Human Migration
External DOI: https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0153850
This record's URL: https://www.repository.cam.ac.uk/handle/1810/294555
Attribution 4.0 International
Licence URL: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/