Stable isotopes in archaeobotanical research


In recent decades the analysis of stable isotopes in plants has become a useful method to infer natural and anthropogenic effects on the growing conditions of plants. Here we present a review of the state-of-the-art regarding the use of stable isotopes in plant macroremains. After providing a brief theoretical and methodological background, we will concentrate on the most common applications developed so far: reconstruction of climate and crop growing conditions, and crop provenancing. Finally, we will discuss current methodological challenges, and potential new directions for research.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.

Access options

Buy single article

Instant unlimited access to the full article PDF.

US$ 39.95

Price includes VAT for USA

Subscribe to journal

Immediate online access to all issues from 2019. Subscription will auto renew annually.

US$ 99

This is the net price. Taxes to be calculated in checkout.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2
Fig. 3


  1. Aggarwal J, Habicht-Mauche J, Juarez C (2008) Application of heavy stable isotopes in forensic isotope geochemistry: a review. Appl Geochem 23:2,658–2,666

  2. Aguilera M, Araus JL, Voltas J, Rodríguez-Ariza MO, Molina F, Rovina N, Buxó R, Ferrio JP (2008) Stable carbon and nitrogen isotopes and quality traits of fossil cereal grains provide clues on sustainability at the beginnings of Mediterranean agriculture. Rapid Commun Mass Spectrom 22:1,653–1,663

  3. Aguilera M, Ferrio JP, Pérez G, Araus JL, Voltas J (2012) Holocene changes in precipitation seasonality in the western Mediterranean Basin: a multi-species approach using δ13C of archaeobotanical remains. J Quat Sci 27:192–202

  4. Amundson R, Austin AT, Schuur AG, Yoo K, Matzek V, Kendall C, Uebesax A, Brenner D, Baisden WT (2003) Global patterns of the isotopic composition of soil and plant nitrogen. Global Biogeochem Cy 17:1031. doi:10.1029/2002GB001903

  5. Araus JL, Buxó R (1993) Changes in carbon isotope discrimination in grain cereals from the north-western Mediterranean basin during the past seven millennia. Aust J Plant Physiol 20:117–128

  6. Araus JL, Febrero A, Buxó R, Camalich MD, Martin D, Molina F, Rodriguez-Ariza MO, Romagosa I (1997a) Changes in carbon isotope discrimination in grain cereals from different regions of the western Mediterranean basin during the past seven millennia. Palaeoenvironmental evidence of a differential change in aridity during the late Holocene. Glob Change Biol 3:107–118

  7. Araus JL, Febrero A, Buxó R, Rodriguez-Ariza MO, Molina F, Camalich MD, Martin D, Voltas J (1997b) Identification of ancient irrigation practices based on the carbon isotope discrimination of plant seeds: a case study from the South-East Iberian Peninsula. J Archaeol Sci 24:729–740

  8. Araus JL, Febrero A, Catala M, Molist M, Voltas J, Romagosa I (1999a) Crop water availability in early agriculture: evidence from carbon isotope discrimination of seeds from a tenth millennium BP site on the Euphrates. Glob Change Biol 5:201–212

  9. Araus JL, Slafer GA, Romagosa I (1999b) Durum wheat and barley yields in antiquity estimated from 13C discrimination of archaeological grains: a case study from the Western Mediterranean Basin. Aust J Plant Physiol 26:345–352

  10. Araus JL, Slafer GA, Reynolds MP, Royo C (2002) Plant breeding and drought in C3 cereals: What should we breed for? Ann Bot 89:925–940

  11. Araus JL, Slafer GA, Buxó R, Romagosa I (2003a) Productivity in prehistoric agriculture: physiological models for the quantification of cereal yields as an alternative to traditional approaches. J Archaeol Sci 30:681–693

  12. Araus JL, Villegas D, Aparicio N, García-del-Moral LF, Elhani S, Rharrabti Y, Ferrio JP, Royo C (2003b) Environmental factors determining carbon isotope discrimination and yield in durum wheat under Mediterranean conditions. Crop Sci 43:170–180

  13. Araus JL, Ferrio JP, Buxó R, Voltas J (2007) The historical perspective of dryland agriculture: lessons learned from 10000 years of wheat cultivation. J Exp Bot 58:131–145

  14. Araus JL, Cabrera-Bosquet L, Serret MD, Bort J, Nieto-Taladriz MT (2013) Comparative performance of δ13C, δ18O and δ15N for phenotyping durum wheat adaptation to a dryland environment. Funct Plant Biol 40:595–608

  15. Araus JL, Ferrio JP, Voltas J, Aguilera M, Buxó R (2014) Agronomic conditions and crop evolution in ancient Near East agriculture. Nat Commun 5. doi:10.1038/ncomms4953

  16. Barbour MM (2007) Stable oxygen isotope composition of plant tissue: a review. Funct Plant Biol 34:83–94

  17. Bogaard A, Heaton THE, Poulton P, Merbach I (2007) The impact of manuring on nitrogen isotope ratios in cereals: archaeological implications for reconstruction. J Archaeol Sci 34:335–343

  18. Bogaard A, Fraser R, Heaton THE, Wallace M, Vaiglova P, Charles M, Jones G, Evershed RP, Styring AK, Andersen NH, Arbogast RM, Bartoseiwicz L, Gardeisen A, Kanstrup M, Maier U, Marinava E, Ninov L, Schäfer M, Stephan E (2013) Crop manuring and intensive land management by Europe’s first farmers. P Natl Acad Sci 110:12,589–12,594

  19. Bogaard A, Henton E, Evans JA, Twiss KC, Charles MP, Vaiglova P, Russell N (2014) Locating land use at Neolithic Çatalhöyük, Turkey: the implications of 87Sr/86Sr signatures in plants and sheep tooth sequences. Archaeometry 56:860–877

  20. Bol R, Eriksen J, Smith P, Garnett MH, Coleman K, Christensen BT (2005) The natural abundance of C-13, N-15, S-34 and C-14 in archived (1923–2000) plant and soil samples from the Askov long-term experiments on animal manure and mineral fertilizer. Rapid Commun Mass Spectrom 19:3,216–3,226

  21. Braadbaart F (2008) Carbonisation and morphological changes in modern dehusked and husked Triticum dicoccum and Triticum aestivum grains. Veget Hist Archaeobot 17:155–166

  22. Braadbaart F, Van der Horst J, Boon JJ, Van Bergen PF (2004) Laboratory simulations of the transformation of emmer wheat as a result of heating. J Therm Anal Calorim 77:957–973

  23. Branch S, Burke S, Evans P, Fairman B, Wolff Briche CSL (2003) A preliminary study in determining the geographical origin of wheat using isotope ratio inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry with 13C, 15N mass spectrometry. J Anal At Spectrom 18:17–22

  24. Buchmann N, Brooks JR, Rapp KD, Ehleringer JR (1996) Carbon isotope composition of C4 grasses is influenced by light and water supply. Plant Cell Environ 19:392–402

  25. Cabrera-Bosquet L, Molero G, Nogués S, Araus JL (2009a) Water and nitrogen conditions affect the relationships of Δ13C and Δ18O with gas exchange and growth in durum wheat. J Exp Bot 60:1,633–1,644

  26. Cabrera-Bosquet L, Sanchez C, Araus JL (2009b) Oxygen isotope enrichment (Δ18O) reflects yield potential and drought resistance in maize. Plant Cell Environ 32:1,487–1,499

  27. Cabrera-Bosquet L, Sánchez C, Araus JL (2009c) How yield relates to ash content, Δ13C and Δ18O in maize grown under different water regimes. Ann Bot 104:1,207–1,216

  28. Cabrera-Bosquet L, Albrizio R, Nogués S, Araus JL (2011) Dual Δ13C/δ18O response to water and nitrogen availability and its relationship with yield in field-grown durum wheat. Plant Cell Environ 34:418–433

  29. Calcagnile L, Quarta G, D’Elia M (2005) High resolution accelerator-based mass spectrometry: precision accuracy and background. Appl Radiat Isot 62:623–629

  30. Caracuta V, Fiorentino G, Martinelli MC (2012) Plant remains and AMS: dating climate change in the Aeolian Islands (NorthEastern Sicily) during the 2nd millennium BC. Radiocarbon 54:689–700

  31. Chen S, Bai Y, Lin G, Han X (2005) Variations in life-form composition and foliar carbon isotope discrimination among eight plant communities under different soil moisture conditions in the Xilin river basin, Inner Mongolia, China. Ecol Res 20:167–176

  32. Chesson LA, Tipple BJ, Erkkila BR, Ehleringer JR (2013) Hydrogen and oxygen stable isotope analysis of pollen collected from honey. Grana 52:305–315

  33. Choi WJ, Ro HM, Hobbie EA (2003) Patterns of natural N-15 in soils and plants from chemically and organically fertilized uplands. Soil Biol Biochem 35:1,493–1,500

  34. Condon AG, Richards RA, Farquhar GD (1987) Carbon isotope discrimination is positively correlated with grain yield and dry matter production in field-grown wheat. Crop Sci 27:996–1,001

  35. Condon AG, Richards RA, Farquhar GD (1993) Relationships between carbon isotope discrimination, water use efficiency and transpiration efficiency for dryland wheat. Aust J Agric Res 44:1,693–1,711

  36. Coubray S, Fiorentino G, Longobardi F, Zech-Matterne V, Casiello G (2013) New light on ancient foodstuff gathering at Cuma (south Italy) by stable isotopes in plant remains. In: Valamoti SM (ed) 16th Conference of the International Work Group for Palaeoethnobotany–Thessaloniki. Greece, Abstract Book, p 121

  37. DeNiro MJ, Hastorf CA (1985) Alteration of 15N/14N and 13C/12C ratios of plant matter during the initial stages of diagenesis: studies utilizing archaeological specimens from Peru. Geochim Cosmochim Acta 49:97–115

  38. Descolas-Gros C, Schölzel C (2007) Stable isotope ratios of carbon and nitrogen in pollen grains in order to characterize plant functional groups and photosynthetic pathway types. New Phytol 176:390–401

  39. Drake BL, Hanson DT, Boone JL (2012) The use of radiocarbon-derived Δ13C as a paleoclimate indicator: applications in the Lower Alentejo of Portugal. J Archaeol Sci 39:2,888–2,896

  40. Edwards TWD, Graf W, Trimborn P, Stichler W, Lipp J, Payer HD (2000) Δ13C response surface resolves humidity and temperature signals in trees. Geochim Cosmochim Acta 64:161–167

  41. Farquhar GD, Richards RA (1984) Isotopic composition of plant carbon correlates with water-use efficiency of wheat genotypes. Aust J Plant Physiol 11:539–552

  42. Farquhar GD, O’Leary MH, Berry JA (1982) On the relationship between carbon isotope discrimination and the intercellular carbon dioxide concentration in leaves. Aust J Plant Physiol 9:121–137

  43. Farquhar GD, Cernusak LA, Barnes B (2007) Heavy water fractionation during transpiration. Plant Physiol 143:11–18

  44. Ferrio JP, Florit A, Vega A, Serrano L, Voltas J (2003) Δ13C and tree-ring width reflect different drought responses in Quercus ilex and Pinus halepensis. Oecologia 137:512–518

  45. Ferrio JP, Alonso N, Voltas J, Araus JL (2004) Estimating grain weight in archaeological cereal crops: a quantitative approach for comparison with current conditions. J Archaeol Sci 31:1,635–1,642

  46. Ferrio JP, Araus JL, Buxó R, Voltas J, Bort J (2005) Water management practices and climate in ancient agriculture: inference from the stable isotope composition of archaeobotanical remains. Veget Hist Archaeobot 14:510–517

  47. Ferrio JP, Alonso N, López B, Araus JL, Voltas J (2006) Carbon isotope composition of fossil charcoal reveals aridity changes in NW Mediterranean Basin. Glob Change Biol 12:1–14

  48. Ferrio JP, Voltas J, Alonso N, Araus JL (2007) Reconstruction of climate and crop conditions in the past based on the carbon isotope signature of archaeobotanical remains. In: Dawson TE, Siegwolf R (eds) Isotopes as indicators of ecological change. Elsevier Academic Press, New York, pp 319–332

  49. Ferrio JP, Arab G, Buxó R, Guerrero E, Molist M, Voltas J, Araus JL (2012) Agricultural expansion and settlement economy in Tell Halula (Mid-Euphrates valley): a diachronic study from Early Neolithic to present. J Arid Environ 86:104–112

  50. Fiorentino G, Caracuta V, Calcagnile L, D’Elia M, Matthiae P, Mavelli F, Quarta G (2008) Third millennium B.C. climate change in Syria highlighted by carbon stable isotope analysis of 14C-AMS dated plant remains from Ebla. Palaeogeogr Palaeoclimatol Palaeoecol 266:51–58

  51. Fiorentino G, Caracuta V, Volpe G, Turchiano M, Quarta G, D’Elia M, Calcagnile L (2009) The First millennium AD climate fluctuations in the Tavoliere Plain (Apulia – Italy): new data from the 14C AMS-dated plant remains from the archaeological site of Faragola. Nucl Instrum Methods Phys Res Sect B 268:1,084–1,087

  52. Fiorentino G, Caracuta V, Casiello G, Longobardi F, Sacco A (2012a) Studying ancient crop provenance: implications from δ13C and δ15N values of charred barley in a Middle Bronze Age silo at Ebla (NW Syria). Rapid Commun Mass Spectrom 26:327–335

  53. Fiorentino G, Caracuta V, Quarta G, Calcagnile L, Morandi Bonaccossi D (2012b) Palaeoprecipitation trends and cultural changes in Syrian protohistoric communites: the contribution of δ13C in ancient and modern vegetation. In: Kneisel J, Kirleis W, Dal Corso M, Taylor N, Tiedtke V (eds) Collapse or Continuity? Environment and development of bronze age human landscapes. Bonn: Habelt, pp 17–34

  54. Fischer RA, Rees D, Sayre KD, Lu ZM, Condon AG, Saavedra AL (1998) Wheat yield progress associated with higher stomatal conductance and photosynthetic rate, and cooler canopies. Crop Sci 38:1,467–1,475

  55. Flohr P, Müldner G, Jenkins E (2011) Carbon stable isotope analysis of cereal remains as a way to reconstruct water availability: preliminary results. Water History 3:121–144

  56. Fraser RA, Bogaard A, Heaton T, Charles M, Jones G, Christensen BT, Halstead P, Merbach I, Poulton PR, Sparkes D (2011) Manuring and stable nitrogen isotope ratios in cereals and pulses: towards a new archaeobotanical approach to the inference of land use and dietary practices. J Archaeol Sci 38:2,790–2,804

  57. Fraser R, Bogaard A, Charles M, Styring AK, Wallace M, Jones G, Ditchfield P, Heaton THEH (2013a) Assessing natural variation and the effects of charring, burial and pre-treatment on the stable carbon and nitrogen isotope values of archaeobotanical cereal and pulse remains. J Archaeol Sci 40:4,754–4,766

  58. Fraser RA, Bogaard A, Schäfer M, Arbogast R-M, Heaton THEH (2013b) Integrating botanical, faunal and human stable carbon and nitrogen isotope values to reconstruct land use and palaeodiet at LBK Vaihingen an der Enz, Baden-Württemberg. World Archaeol 45:492–517

  59. Guo G, Xie G (2006) The relationship between plant stable carbon isotope composition, precipitation and satellite data, Tibet Plateau, China. Quat Int 144:68–71

  60. Hall G, Woodborne S, Scholes M (2008) Stable carbon isotope ratios from archaeological charcoal as paleoenvironmental indicators. Chem Geol 247:384–400

  61. Handley LL, Raven JA (1992) The use of natural abundance of nitrogen isotopes in plant physiology and ecology. Plant Cell Environ 15:965–985

  62. Handley LL, Robinson D, Forster BP, Ellis RP, Scrimgeour CM, Gordon DC, Nero E, Raven JA (1997) Shoot δ15N correlates with genotype and salt stress in barley. Planta 201:100–102

  63. Hartman G, Danin A (2010) Isotopic values of plants in relation to water availability in the Eastern Mediterranean region. Oecologia 162:837–852

  64. Hastorf CA, DeNiro MJ (1985) Reconstruction of prehistoric plant production and cooking practices by a new isotopic method. Nature 315:489–491

  65. Hatté C, Schwartz D (2003) Reconstruction of paleoclimates by isotopic analysis: What can the fossil isotopic record tell us about the plant life of past environments? Phytochem Rev 2:163–177

  66. Heaton THE, Jones G, Halstead P, Tsipropoulos T (2009) Variations in the 13C/12C ratios of modern wheat grain, and implications for interpreting data from Bronze Age Assiros Toumba, Greece. J Archaeol Sci 36:2,224–2,233

  67. Hedges REM, Reynard LM (2007) Nitrogen isotopes and the trophic level of humans in archaeology. J Archaeol Sci 34:1,240–1,251

  68. Hodson MJ, Parker AG, Leng MJ, Sloane HJ (2008) Silicon, oxygen and carbon isotope composition of wheat (Triticum aestivum L.) phytoliths: implications for palaeoecology and archaeology. J Quat Sci 23:331–339

  69. Högberg P (1997) Tansley review No. 95 15 N natural abundance in soil-plant systems. New Phytol 137:179–203

  70. Jahren AH, Amundson RG, Kendall C, Wigand P (2001) Paleoclimatic reconstruction using the correlation in d18O of Hackberry carbonate and environmental water, North America. Quat Res 56:252–263

  71. Johnson DA, Asay KH, Read JJ, Ehleringer JR, Hall AE, Farquhar GD (1993) Genotypic and environmental variation for carbon isotope discrimination in crested wheatgrass, a perennial forage grass. In: Ehleringer JR, Hall AE, Farquhar GD (eds) Stable isotopes and plant carbon-water relations. Academic Press Inc., San Diego, pp 269–280

  72. Kelly S, Heaton K, Hoogewerff J (2005) Tracing the geographical origin of food: the application of multi-element and multi-isotope analysis. Trends Food Sci Techn 16:555–567

  73. Knudson KJ, Williams HM, Buikstra JE, Tomczak PD, Gordon GW, Anbar AD (2010) Introducing δ88/86Sr analysis in archaeology: a demonstration of the utility of strontium isotope fractionation in paleodietary studies. J Archaeol Sci 37:2,352–2,364

  74. Korol RL, Kirschbaum MUF, Farquhar GD, Jeffreys M (1999) Effects of water status and soil fertility on the C-isotope signature in Pinus radiata. Tree Physiol 19:551–562

  75. Kühn M, Hadorn P (2004) Pflanzliche Makro- und Mikroreste aus Dung von Wiederkäuern. In: Jacomet S, Leuzinger U, Schibler J (eds) Die jungsteinzeitliche Seeufersiedlung Arbon Bleiche 3: Umwelt und Wirtschaft. Amt für Archäologie des Kantons Thurgau, Frauenfeld, pp 327–348

  76. Lancelotti C, Caracuta V, Fiorentino G, Madella M, Ajithprasad P (2013) Holocene Monsoon Dynamics and Human Occupation in Gujarat: Stable Isotopes Analyses on Plant Remains. Heritage: J Multidiscip Stud Archaeol 1:288–300

  77. Lauer F, Prost K, Gerlach R, Pätzold S, Wolf M, Urmersbach S, Amelung W (2014) Organic Fertilization and Sufficient Nutrient Status in Prehistoric Agriculture?—Indications from Multi-Proxy Analyses of Archaeological Topsoil Relicts. PLoS One 9:e106244

  78. Lightfoot E, Stevens RE (2012) Stable isotope investigations of charred barley (Hordeum vulgare) and wheat (Triticum spelta) grains from Danebury Hillfort: implications for palaeodietary reconstructions. J Archaeol Sci 39:656–662

  79. Loader NJ, Hemming DL (2004) The stable isotope analysis of pollen as an indicator of terrestrial palaeoenvironmental change: a review of progress and recent developments. Quat Sci Rev 23:893–900

  80. Marino BD, DeNiro MJ (1987) Isotope analysis of archaeobotanicals to reconstruct past climates: effects of activities associated with food preparation on carbon, hydrogen and oxygen isotope ratios of plant cellulose. J Archaeol Sci 14:537–548

  81. Marino BD, MacElroy MB, Salawitch RJ, Spaulding WG (1992) Glacial-to-interglacial variations in the carbon isotopic composition of atmospheric CO2. Nature 357:461–466

  82. Masi A, Sadori L, Baneschi I, Siani AM, Zanchetta G (2013) Stable isotope analysis of archaeological oak charcoal from eastern Anatolia as a marker of mid-Holocene climate change. Plant Biol 15:83–92

  83. Miller JM, Williams RJ, Farquhar GD (2001) Carbon isotope discrimination by a sequence of Eucalyptus species along a subcontinental rainfall gradient in Australia. Funct Ecol 15:222–232

  84. Muñoz P, Voltas J, Araus JL, Igartua E, Romagosa I (1998) Changes over time in the adaptation of barley releases in north-eastern Spain. Plant Breeding 117:531–535

  85. Nelson DM, Hu FS, Mikucki JA, Tian J, Pearson A (2007) Carbon-isotopic analysis of individual pollen grains from C3 and C4 grasses using a spooling-wire microcombustion interface. Geochim Cosmochim Acta 71:4,005–4,014

  86. Nelson DM, Hu FS, Scholes DR, Joshi N, Pearson A (2008) Using SPIRAL (Single Pollen Isotope Ratio AnaLysis) to estimate C3- and C4-grass abundance in the paleorecord. Earth Planet Sci Lett 269:11–16

  87. O’Connell TC, Kneale CJ, Tasevska N, Kuhnle GGC (2012) The diet-body offset in human nitrogen isotopic values: a controlled dietary study. Am J Phys Anthropol 149:426–434

  88. Parker AG, Eckersley L, Smith MM, Goudie AS, Stokes S, Ward S, White K, Hodson MJ (2004) Holocene vegetation dynamics in the northeastern Rub’ al-Khali desert, Arabian Peninsula: a phytolith, pollen and carbon isotope study. J Quat Sci 19:665–676

  89. Passioura JB (2002) Environmental biology and crop improvement. Funct Plant Biol 29:537–546

  90. Poole I, Braadbaart F, Boon JJ, Van Bergen PF (2002) Stable carbon isotope changes during artificial charring of propagules. Org Geochem 33:1675–1681

  91. Pustovoytov K, Riehl S, Hilger H (2010) Oxygen isotopic composition of fruit carbonate in Lithospermeae and its relevance to paleoclimate research in the Mediterranean. Global Planet Change 71:258–268

  92. Quarta G, D’Elia M, Calcagnile L (2004) The influence of injection parameters on mass fractionation phenomena in radiocarbon analysis. Nucl Instrum Methods Phys Res, Sect B 217:644–648

  93. Rice SK, Giles L (1996) The influence of water content and leaf anatomy on carbon isotope discrimination and photosynthesis in Sphagnum. Plant Cell Environ 19:118–124

  94. Riehl S (2008) Climate and agriculture in the ancient Near East: a synthesis of the archaeobotanical and stable carbon isotope evidence. Veget Hist Archaeobot 17:43–51

  95. Riehl S (2010a) Maintenance of agricultural stability in a changing environment—the archaeobotanical evidence at Emar. In: Finkbeiner U, Sakal F (eds) Emar after the closure of the Tabqa dam. The Syrian-German excavations 1996–2002. Vol 1: Late Roman and Medieval cemeteries and environmental studies. Subartu 25, Turnhout, pp 177–224

  96. Riehl S (2010b) Flourishing agriculture in times of political instability—the archaeobotanical and isotopic evidence from Tell Atchana. In: Yener KA (ed) Excavations in the plain of Antioch. Tell Atchana, Ancient Alalakh, a Bronze Age capital in the Amuq Valley, Turkey. The 2003–2004 excavation seasons. Koç University Press, Istanbul, pp 123–136. ISBN: 9786055607135

  97. Riehl S (2013) Inner-sample and inner-specific variability of δ13C in barley an its implications on the interpretation of drough stress in ancient near eastern agricultural societies. In: Valamoti SM (ed) 16th Conference of the International Work Group for Palaeoethnobotany—Thessaloniki. Abstract Book, p 124. (

  98. Riehl S, Bryson RA, Pustovoytov K (2008) Changing growing conditions for crops during the Near Eastern Bronze Age (3000-1200 BC): The stable carbon isotope evidence. J Archaeol Sci 35:1,011–1,022

  99. Riehl S, Pustovoytov KE, Weippert H, Klett S, Hole F (2014) Drought stress variability in ancient Near Eastern agricultural systems evidenced by δ13C in barley grain. P Natl Acad Sci 111:12,348–12,353

  100. Roberts N, Eastwood WJ, Kuzucuoğlu C, Fiorentino G, Caracuta V (2011) Climatic, vegetation and cultural change in the eastern Mediterranean during the mid-Holocene environmental transition. Holocene 21:147–162

  101. Sacco A, Brescia MA, Sgaramella A, Sacco D (2005) Characterization of the composition and the geographical origin of food products by means of nuclear magnetic resonance and isotope ratio mass spectrometry. Recent Res Dev Agri Food Chem 6:119–142

  102. Schoeninger M, DeNiro M, Tauber H (1983) Stable nitrogen isotope ratios of bone collagen reflect marine and terrestrial components of prehistoric human diet. Science 220:1,381–1,383

  103. Sembayran M, Dixon L, Goulding KWT, Bol R (2008) Long-term influence of manure and mineral nitrogen applications on plant and soil 15N and 13C values from the Broadbalk Wheat Experiment. Rapid Commun Mass Spectrom 22:1,735–1,740

  104. Shearer G, Kohl DH (1989) Estimates of N2 fixation in ecosystems: the need for and basis of the 15N natural abundance method. Ecol Stud 68:342–374

  105. Slafer GA, Araus JL, Royo C, García-del-Moral LF (2005) Promising eco-physiological traits for genetic improvement of cereal yields in Mediterranean environments. Ann Appl Biol 146:61–70

  106. Stellati A, Fiorentino G, Longobardi F, Casiello G, Cassano R, Fioriello SC (2013) The application of stable isotopes analyses on cereal caryopses as a tool to discriminate the crop provenience at Late Antiquity harbour of Egnathia. In: Valamoti SM (ed) 16th Conference of the International Work Group for Palaeoethnobotany–Thessaloniki. Greece, Abstract Book, p 125

  107. Stewart GR, Turnbull MH, Schmidt S, Erskine PD (1995) 13C natural abundance in plant communities along a rainfall gradient: a biological integrator of water availability. Aust J Plant Physiol 22:51–55

  108. Styring A, Manning H, Fraser R, Wallace M, Jones G, Charles M, Heaton THE, Bogaard A, Evershed RP (2013) The effect of charring and burial on the biochemical composition of cereal grains: investigating the integrity of archaeological plant material. J Archaeol Sci 40:4,767–4,779

  109. Tauber H (1981) 13C evidence for dietary habits of prehistoric man in Denmark. Nature 292:332–333

  110. Tieszen LL, Fagre T (1993) Carbon isotopic variability in modern and archaeological maize. J Archaeol Sci 20:25–40

  111. Toolin LJ, Eastoe CJ (1993) Late pleistocene recent atmospheric delta-C-13 record in C4 grasses. Radiocarbon 35:263–269

  112. Unkovich MJ, Pate JS (2000) An appraisal of recent field measurements of symbiotic N2 fixation by annual legumes. Field Crops Res 65:211–228

  113. Vaiglova P, Bogaard A, Collins M, Cavanagh W, Mee C, Renard J, Lamb A, Gardeisen A, Fraser R (2014) An integrated stable isotope study of plants and animals from Kouphovouno, southern Greece: a new look at Neolithic farming. J Archaeol Sci 42:201–215

  114. Vaiglova P, Snoeck C, Nitsch E, Bogaard A, Lee-Thorp J (in press) Impact of contamination and pre-treatment on stable carbon and nitrogen isotopic composition of charred plant remains. Rapid Commun Mass Spectrom

  115. Van der Veen M, Jones G (2006) A re-analysis of agricultural production and consumption: implications for understanding the British Iron Age. Veget Hist Archaeobot 15:217–228

  116. Vernet JL, Pachiaudi C, Bazile F, Durand A, Fabre L, Heinz C, Solari ME, Thiebault S (1996) Le δ13C de charbons de bois préhistoriques et historiques méditerranées, de 35000 BP a l’actuel. Premiers résultats. CR Acad sci Paris, T. 323, serie IIa: 319–324

  117. Voltas I, Ferrio JP, Alonso N, Araus JL (2008) Stable carbon isotopes in archaeobotanical remains and palaeoclimate. Contrib Sci 4:21–31

  118. Wallace M, Jones G, Charles M, Fraser R, Halstead P, Heaton THE, Bogaard A (2013) Stable carbon isotope analysis as a direct means of inferring crop water status and water management practices. World Archaeol 45:388–409

  119. Warren CR, McGrath JF, Adams MA (2001) Water availability and carbon isotope discrimination in conifers. Oecologia 127:426–486

  120. Watzka M, Buchgraber K, Wanek W (2006) Natural 15N abundance of plants and soils under different management practices in a montane grassland. Soil Biol Biochem 38:1,564–1,576

  121. Weiguo L, Xiahong F, Youfeng N, Qingle Z, Yunning C, Zhisheng A (2005) δ13C variation of C3 and C4 plants across an Asian monsoon gradient in arid northwestern China. Glob Change Biol 11:1,094–1,100

  122. White JWC, Ciais P, Figge RA, Kenny R, Markgraf V (1994) A high resolution record of atmospheric CO2 content from carbon isotopes in peat. Nature 367:153–156

  123. Williams DG, Gempko V, Fravolini A, Leavitt SW, Wall GW, Kimball BA, Pinter PJ Jr, LaMorte R, Ottman M (2001) Carbon isotope discrimination by Sorghum bicolor under CO2 enrichment and drought. New Phytol 150:285–293

  124. Williams DG, Coltrain JB, Lott M, English NB, Ehleringer JR (2005) Oxygen isotopes in cellulose identify source water for archaeological maize in the American Southwest. J Archaeol Sci 32:931–939

  125. Yang Q, Li X, Liu W, Zhou X, Zhao K, Sun N (2011) Carbon isotope fractionation during low temperature carbonization of foxtail and common millets. Org Geochem 42:713–719

  126. Yousfi S, Serret MD, Araus JL (2009) Shoot δ15N gives a better reflection than ion concentration or Δ13C of genotypic differences in the response of durum wheat to salinity. Funct Plant Biol 36:1–12

  127. Zhao FJ, Spiro B, McGrath SP (2001) Trends in 13C/12C ratios and C isotope discrimination of wheat since 1845. Oecologia 128:336–342

Download references


JLA and JPF received support from ERC-Advanced grant 230561 (AGRIWESTMED) and Spanish project PALEOISOMED (CGL2009-13079-C02). JPF is supported by the Ramón y Cajal programme (RYC-2008-02050, MCINN, Spain). SR thanks the German Research Foundation (DFG) for financial support (RI 1193/6-2). The researches of GF are supported by Italian PRIN project IDEAL (2010H8WPKL_004) within the research unit of University of Salento.

Author information

Correspondence to Girolamo Fiorentino.

Additional information

Communicated by F. Bittmann.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Fiorentino, G., Ferrio, J.P., Bogaard, A. et al. Stable isotopes in archaeobotanical research. Veget Hist Archaeobot 24, 215–227 (2015) doi:10.1007/s00334-014-0492-9

Download citation


  • Stable isotopes
  • Archaeobotany
  • Seeds
  • Charcoal