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Isotope data in Migration Period archaeology: critical review and future directions

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Depaermentier, Margaux LC  ORCID logo


jats:titleAbstract</jats:title>jats:pEarly Mediaeval Archaeology was long influenced by traditional narratives related to so-called jats:italicVölkerwanderungen</jats:italic>. Based on the interpretation of ancient written sources, the “Migration Period” was traditionally perceived as a time of catastrophic changes triggered by the collapse of the Western Roman Empire and massive migration waves of “barbarian” groups across Europe. In the last decades, isotope analyses have been increasingly used to test these traditional narratives by exploring past mobility patterns, shifts in dietary habits, and changes in subsistence strategies or in socio-economic structures among early medieval societies. To evaluate the achievements of isotope studies in understanding the complexity of the so-called Migration Period, this paper presents a review of 50 recent publications. Instead of re-analysing the data per se, this review first explores the potentials and limitations of the various approaches introduced in the last decades. In a second step, an analysis of the interpretations presented in the reviewed studies questions to what extend traditional expectations are supported by isotope data from the Migration Period. Beside revising the concept of massive migrations, isotope data reveal so-far underestimated mobility patterns and open new perspectives in the investigation of early medieval world.</jats:p>


Acknowledgements: I would like to thank Susanne Hakenbeck and Sam Leggett for her comments on my draft and her help in my research. I am also very grateful to Tamsin O’Connell for her invaluable support and advice. Many thanks to Michael Kempf for discussing the issues raised in the text and proofreading the draft, as well as to Elizabeth La Duc for proofreading the revised manuscript. I also thank Alexander Gramsch, Eszter Bánffy, and Frans C. W. J. Theuws for encouraging the production of this article.

Funder: University of Basel


Behavioral and Social Science, Basic Behavioral and Social Science

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Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences

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Springer Science and Business Media LLC
Universität Basel (Doc.Mobility@unibas)