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Department of Archaeology


Publication details for Dr Janet Montgomery

Beaumont, J., Gledhill, A. & Montgomery, J. (2014). Isotope analysis of incremental human dentine: towards higher temporal resolution. Bulletin of the International Association of Paleodontology 8(2): 212-223.

Author(s) from Durham


Here we present a novel method which allows the measurement of the stable isotope ratios of carbon (δ13C) and nitrogen (δ15N) from much smaller samples of dentine than previously possible without affecting the quality parameters. The reconstruction of the diet of past populations using isotopic analysis of bone collagen is a well-established tool. However, because of remodelling of bone throughout life, this gives a blurred picture of the diet. The analysis of δ13C and δ15N from tiny increments of dentine utilizes tissue that does not remodel and permits comparison, at the same age, of those who survived infancy with those who did not at high temporal resolution. This new method has been tested on archaeological teeth from two sites: three molar teeth from the 19th Century Kilkenny Union Workhouse Famine cemetery, Ireland; and three from the Anglian (5-7th centuries AD) cemetery at West Heslerton, Yorkshire, England, selected on the basis of their varied preservation. The methods of incremental dentine sectioning described in Beaumont et al (2013)[1] were carried out and a sub-section removed prior to denaturing and lyophilisation. The two sample sets, dentine and collagen from each section, were measured by isotope ratio mass spectrometry. The profiles produced from each of the six teeth studied show close correlation in isotope ratios indicating that demineralized dentine which has not been denatured and lyophilised produces isotope ratios comparable with dentine collagen. This finding allows analysis of extremely small samples of dentine which could previously not be measured using current instruments and methods.