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Department of Archaeology


Miss Lucie Johnson

(email at


I am a NERC CASE funded student and my research involves finding and defining radiogenic strontium (Sr) isotope biospheres. My Supervisors include Dr Janet Montgomery, Dr Andrew Millard and Dr Mike Church from Durham University and Professor Jane Evans from the NIGL.

Sr-isotopes are a valuable tool for archaeologists to investigate human and animal migration and mobility. To provide context for the skeletal data, we also need information about the 87Sr/86Sr that are available in the environment and especially the plant food sources. A preliminary biosphere map of Britain has been produced (Montgomery et al., 2006; Evans et al., 2009; 2010) and a recent PhD has characterised in detail chalkland biospheres (Warham, 2012 University of Bradford) but it is still very much a work in progress.

The vast majority of human burials for which we have 87Sr/86Sr data are excavated from regions of chalks, limestone and sedimentary rocks, which preserve bone very well but none of which appear to produce biosphere values above 0.714. Outside the granitic regions of Scandinavia and the Iberian Peninsula, the same is true across most of Europe where one or two people over 0.714 may be found in a published study and simplistically assigned, due to our current lack of knowledge of radiogenic biospheres, as of upland or granitic origins. However, with increasing regularity, we are finding prehistoric and historic migrants in England with values over 0.714, and we are struggling to explain or identify possible places of origin: Scotland would seem the obvious choice from a geological viewpoint but would perhaps be counter-intuitive in much of prehistory when migration routes are thought to come from the south and east. As bone rarely survives in granitic soils, we have no in-situ comparative populations – we only find granite-dwellers when they have moved and been buried in soils more conducive to bone preservation. Without in-situ populations it is difficult to define the range of 87Sr/86Sr that a granite-dwelling population should have. To complicate the situation further, in Britain many of the granitic regions are at altitudes and latitudes that ensure poor, wet, acidic soils that would seem unattractive for agriculture and high rainfall can strongly influence the 87Sr/86Sr of plants making it even harder to get high values into humans.

So where do all these people with high 87Sr/86Sr come from? Is it somewhere other than granites? Are there other radiogenic agriculturally-rich biospheres, perhaps areas of glacial drift, waiting to be found in Britain? Are high 87Sr/86Sr obtained by unusual dietary practices that by-pass the normal transfer of strontium in the food-chain? Or must we look to the continent? This project aims to focus on undertaking environmental 87Sr/86Sr mapping and characterization in Britain, and across to Europe if necessary, to refine the 87Sr/86Sr biosphere and answer these questions.


Evans, J.A., Montgomery, J., Wildman, G., 2009. Isotope domain mapping of 87Sr/86Sr biosphere variation on the Isle of Skye, Scotland. Journal of the Geological Society of London 166, 617

631.Montgomery, J., 2010. Passports from the past: Investigating human dispersals using strontium isotope analysis of tooth enamel. Annals of Human Biology 37, 325-346.

Evans, J., Montgomery, J., Wildman, G., Boulton, N., 2010. Spatial variations in biosphere 87Sr/86Sr in Britain. Journal of the Geological Society 167, 1-4.

Montgomery, J., Evans, J.A., Wildman, G., 2006. 87Sr/86Sr isotope composition of bottled British mineral waters for environmental and forensic purposes. Applied Geochemistry 21, 1626-1634.

Warham, J.O., 2012. Mapping biosphere strontium isotope ratios across major lithological boundaries, Unpublished PhD thesis, University of Bradford, UK.

Academic Background

Graduated in Natural Sciences (MSci) in 2012 from Durham University.

2013-present: PhD student in Archaeology(funded by NERC), Durham University.

Conference Contributions

  • UKAS 2015: Research poster titled 'Defining Radiogenic Sr-isotope biospheres within Britain: the Cairngorms National Park, Scotland.', 8-11 April, Durham University.
  • IAPETUS Student Conference 2014: Student research poster titled 'Finding and defining radiogenic Sr-isotope biospheres: can a home in Britain be found for people with high 87Sr/86Sr?',11th April, University of Glasgow.

Teaching Areas

  • Tutor on the 1st year undergraduate module Archaeology in Action, 2014-2015, Durham University. (4 hours/year.)


Journal Article

  • Bishop, R. R., Church, M. J., Clegg, C., Johnson, L., Piper, S., Rowley-Conwy, P. A. & Snape-Kennedy, L. (2013). Tràigh na Beirigh 2. Discovery and Excavation in Scotland, New Series 14: 198-199.
  • Snape-Kennedy, L., Church, M. J., Bishop, R. R., Clegg, C., Johnson, L., Piper, S. & Rowley-Conwy, P. A. (2013). Tràigh na Beirigh 9. Discovery and Excavation in Scotland, New Series 14: 199.