Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences

, Volume 1, Issue 3, pp 195-213

First online:

Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.

Metal provenancing using isotopes and the Oxford archaeological lead isotope database (OXALID)


This paper reviews the research into the methodology of lead isotope provenance studies carried out at the University of Oxford between 1975 and 2002, at first in the Department of Geology (Geological Age and Isotope Research Laboratory), later in the Isotrace Laboratory based in the Department of Nuclear Physics, and eventually part of the Research Laboratory of Archaeology and the History of Art. These 27 years of intensive work, funded initially by the Stiftung Volkswagenwerk, and later from numerous UK Government and Charitable funds and finally by the Institute of Aegean Prehistory laid the foundations of the lead isotope provenance methodology and resulted in a large database of analytical isotope and elemental results. In spite of the efforts of the authors, this database is still not comprehensively published or easily accessible in a digital format by all researchers interested in using this method for their projects. The possibilities of advancing this situation are discussed. The authors discuss in detail the basic restrictions and advantages of using the lead isotope compositions of ores in mineral deposits for finding the origin of the raw materials used for making ancient artefacts. Methods for the scientific interpretation of the data are discussed, including attempts to use statistical methods. The methodology of creating the Oxford lead isotope database (OXALID) is outlined and a summary is given of the lead isotope resource provided by OXALID.


Lead isotopes Tin isotopes Copper isotopes Archaeology Provenance studies Methodology Interpretation Statistics Ore deposits Metals trade Bronze Age Mediterranean