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Strontium isotope analysis reveals prehistoric mobility patterns in the southeastern Baltic area

Abstract

We measured 87Sr/86Sr for all available human remains (n = 40) dating from the Mesolithic to the Bronze Age (ca. 6400–800 cal BC) in Lithuania. In addition, local baselines of archaeological fauna from the same area were constructed. We identified significant and systematic offsets between 87Sr/86Sr values of modern soils and animals and archaeological animals due to currently unknown reasons. By comparing 87Sr/86Sr human intra-tooth variation with the local baselines, we identified 13 non-local individuals, accounting for 25–50% of the analysed population. We found no differences in the frequency of local vs. nonlocals between male and female hunter-gatherers. Six Mesolithic-Subneolithic individuals with 87Sr/86Sr values > 0.7200 may have come from southern Finland and/or Karelia. Two Mesolithic-Subneolithic individuals from the Donkalnis cemetery with 87Sr/86Sr values < 0.7120 likely came from the Lithuanian Baltic coast. These data demonstrate coastal-inland mobility of up to 85 km, which is also supported by archaeological evidence. The standard deviation in the intra-tooth 87Sr/86Sr indicates that mobility did not decrease with the adoption of pottery technology at ca. 5000 cal BC but rather slowly decreased during the Neolithic and Bronze Age periods. We interpret this as a result of the introduction and subsequent intensification of farming. The least mobile way of life was practised by Subneolithic coastal communities during the 4th millennium cal BC, although 87Sr/86Sr do not exclude that they migrated along the coastline.

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Acknowledgements

We thank Karin Wallner and Hans Schöberg for the chemical preparation and ID-TIMS analyses and Melanie Kielman-Schmitt for the LA-ICPMS support.

Funding

This research was financially supported by the Research Council of Lithuania (S-MIP-20–49) and was implemented in collaboration with the Vegacenter (joint publication with Vegacenter #049). NordSIMS-Vegacenter is funded by the Swedish Research Council as a national research infrastructure.

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Correspondence to Gytis Piličiauskas.

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Supplementary Information

Below is the link to the electronic supplementary material.

87Sr/86Sr measurements (LA-MC-ICP-MS) on human teeth enamel Supplementary file1 (XLSX 380 KB)

12520_2022_1539_MOESM2_ESM.jpg

Pre-Quaternary geological map of Eastern and Northern Europe (based on IGME5000, 2005) and the maximum extent of the last glaciation ice sheet with trajectories of the major ice streams which existed during the decay of the ice sheet according to Boulton et al. (2001) Supplementary file2 (JPG 2139 KB)

12520_2022_1539_MOESM3_ESM.jpg

Archaeological sites with human, animal and plant samples analysed mapped onto a Quaternary geological map 1:200 000 after Lithuanian Geological Survey (https://www.lgt.lt/epaslaugos/elpaslauga.xhtml). H – Holocene, LP – Late Pleistocene, MP – Middle Pleistocene Supplementary file3 (JPG 2905 KB)

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Mean 87Sr/86Sr ratios of archaeological fauna from this study and from Piličiauskienė et al. (in prep) plotted on the interpolation of thickness of Quaternary deposits (from Aleksa 2007 with permission) Supplementary file4 (JPG 5366 KB)

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Measured 87Sr/86Sr ratios of fauna and interpolated 87Sr/86Sr ratios of modern grazing and agricultural soil (from data published by Hoogewerff et al. 2019). Note that all animals are from archaeological sites with a single exception of Minaičiai (marked with *) in which four modern small rodents were analysed Supplementary file5 (JPG 230 KB)

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Piličiauskas, G., Simčenka, E., Lidén, K. et al. Strontium isotope analysis reveals prehistoric mobility patterns in the southeastern Baltic area. Archaeol Anthropol Sci 14, 74 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12520-022-01539-w

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Keywords

  • Strontium isotope analysis
  • Migration
  • Mobility
  • Southeastern Baltic
  • Stone Age
  • Bronze Age