Childhood mobility revealed by strontium isotope analysis: a review of the multiple tooth sampling approach

Abstract

Strontium isotope analysis of archeological skeletal materials is a highly effective and commonly employed analytical tool to investigate past human mobility and migration. Most such studies to date have focused on the analysis of a single tooth sample per individual to identify migration. Increasingly, however, studies have analyzed multiple teeth from the same individual permitting the detection of migrations occurring during childhood, more fine-grained temporal resolution of the age at which migration(s) occurred, and even the identification of multiple migration episodes. In this study, we review the application of such approaches to a wide range of archeological contexts worldwide. We compiled and analyzed published 87Sr/86Sr data for 1043 individuals from 122 sites to explore the potential variability of childhood mobility patterns cross-culturally. The results demonstrate a high degree of variability in childhood mobility that differs significantly between different regions and time periods. Potential interpretations involved in multiple tooth 87Sr/86Sr analysis are reviewed, including heterogeneity in variance of regional 87Sr/86Sr, as well as variability in human mobility patterns such as residential change of whole family, fosterage, herding activities, post-marital residence rules, or forced migrations. Various limitations and caveats concerning the multiple teeth sampling approach are also critically discussed.

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Acknowledgments

This manuscript was prepared during V.H.’s internship at Leiden University, which has been funded by the Erasmus+ Traineeship grant. J.E.L. is supported in part by the ERC-Synergy project NEXUS1492 which has received funding from the European Research Council under the European Union’s Seventh Framework Programme (FP7/2007-2013)/ERC grant agreement no. 319209. The research described in this paper was accomplished with support from the project “Lifestyle as an unintentional identity in the Neolithic” (Project 19-16304S), financed by the Czech Science Foundation. The authors gratefully acknowledge the insightful critiques and comments of two anonymous reviewers.

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ESM 1

Compiled strontium isotope data for individuals with two or more teeth with ancillary information about the skeletons and sites (XLSX 130 kb)

Fig. A1

Δ87Sr/86Sr between teeth forming in early childhood (n = 49). Legend: dec. = deciduous; M1 = permanent first molar; AV = absolute value. Dashed line is at 0.00063 (= two standard deviations from the mean of absolute Δ87Sr/86Sr) (JPG 410 kb)

Fig. A2

Histograms of Δ87Sr/86Sr between Early and Late teeth (∆L-E), Early and Middle teeth (∆M-E), and Middle and Late teeth (∆L-M). Outliers were excluded (PNG 196 kb)

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Hrnčíř, V., Laffoon, J.E. Childhood mobility revealed by strontium isotope analysis: a review of the multiple tooth sampling approach. Archaeol Anthropol Sci 11, 5301–5316 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12520-019-00868-7

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Keywords

  • Childhood
  • Mobility
  • Migration
  • Strontium isotope
  • Cross-cultural comparison