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Isotopes

Paleodiet, mobility and environmental reconstruction using isotope analysis

Collagen from dentine. Credits: P.Robert

Objective 1: Reconstruct palaeodiets

The carbon, nitrogen and sulfur isotopic signals in human collagen (consumer) reflect the isotopic signal of the food consumed. By applying bulk carbon, nitrogen and, sulfur isotope analysis to human remains, it will possible to investigate: 
•    Whether Mesolithic individuals from Belgium were consuming marine versus terrestrial food protein 
•    Whether they were consuming C4 versus C3 plant protein
•    The trophic position of the consumers


To obtain relevant results, potential food sources (e.g. Mesolithic faunal remains from Belgium) will be analysed simultaneously to build a strong baseline.

This will be completed by the use of Bayesian mixing models.
To obtain further information on the proportion of the types of food protein ingested, we will be implementing carbon and nitrogen compound-specific isotope analysis on some of the Mesolithic remains. 

The sample preparation: at ARCHEOS laboratory

Isotope ratios measurements: ISOFYS

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Objective 2: Mobility and migration

Strontium, oxygen and sulfur isotope analysis will be performed to investigate migration and mobility of the first permanent settlers of Belgium. Using these three isotopic systems together will significantly improve our knowledge on mobility patterns.

 Strontium (87Sr/86Sr) ratios, δ34S and δ18O values from bones and/or teeth reflect the underlying geology of the food and/or water consumed. They have been used to inform on the regional mobility of prehistoric humans and the associated fauna. They provide information regarding the spatial context for food sources and consumers and then, they allow to distinguish non-locals. 

Objective 3: Environmental changes study

Through the application of carbon, nitrogen, oxygen and sulfur isotope analysis, it will be possible to investigate climate changes during the Mesolithic period but also during the Late Paleolithic in Southern Belgium.
 

Finally, these analyses will be complemented by method improvements, especially in relation to the sample size. Indeed, Mesolithic remains are scarce and isotope analysis is a destructive method. It is essential to work with care and try to aim for low sample sizes.

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