Saturday 8 October 2022

Strontium Values Reappraisal - The South-West not Scotland?

That pigs, cattle, humans and even a dog came to the Stonehenge area from distant parts in prehistory has been one of the more interesting scientific discoveries of recent times. The links to Orcadian culture has also been speculated on. 

Behind the headlines and speculation there is solid research - some links to start from:

Evans, J., Parker Pearson, M., Madgwick, R. et al. Strontium and oxygen isotope evidence for the origin and movement of cattle at Late Neolithic Durrington Walls, UK. Archaeol Anthropol Sci 11, 5181–5197 (2019). 

Snoeck, C., Pouncett, J., Claeys, P. et al. Strontium isotope analysis on cremated human remains from Stonehenge support links with west Wales. Sci Rep 8, 10790 (2018). 

The interpretations of Strontium and other isotope analysis lead to controversy. 

Gordon J. Barclay & Kenneth Brophy (2020): ‘A veritable chauvinism of prehistory’: nationalist prehistories and the ‘British’ late Neolithic mythos, Archaeological Journal, DOI: 10.1080/00665983.2020.1769399

Richard Madgwick, Angela Lamb, Hilary Sloane, Alexandra Nederbragt, Umberto Albarella, Mike Parker Pearson & Jane Evans (2021) A veritable confusion: use and abuse of isotope analysis in archaeology, Archaeological Journal, 178:2, 361-385, DOI: 10.1080/00665983.2021.1911099

The ‘omphalos of Britain’: iconic sites and landscapes, methodological nationalism and conceptual conservatism in the writing of ‘British’ prehistory. A reply to Madgwick and collaborators 2021 Gordon J. Barclay and Kenneth Brophy DOI: 10.6084/m9.figshare.17296994

So a reappraisal is warranted: The high strontium levels that have been taken to indicate movement from Scotland might now indicate the South-West instead.  A recent paper:

Müldner, Gundula & Frémondeau, Delphine & Evans, Jane & Jordan, Alexis & Rippon, Steven. (2022). Putting South-West England on the (strontium isotope) map: A possible origin for highly radiogenic 87Sr/86Sr values from southern Britain. Journal of Archaeological Science. 144. 105628. 10.1016/j.jas.2022.105628.

"Reconstructions of ancient mobility based on strontium isotopes are only ever as reliable as estimates for baseline values of bioavailable strontium in the study area. Current biosphere mapping for Britain suggests that there are no sizeable areas hosting 87Sr/86Sr values above 0.714 south of Cumbria. As a result, archaeological humans or animals with such (for Britain) ‘highly radiogenic’ strontium isotope values are commonly interpreted as having moved either from Scotland or abroad. This paper presents the first dedicated strontium isotope map for South-West England based on 98 modern biosphere samples (including 68 new measurements). Numerous samples from the Cornubian granite (Dartmoor) have 87Sr/86Sr values above 0.714 (maximum 0.7287) and, based on their distribution, it is suggested that the previously elusive ‘highly radiogenic’ values are characteristic for areas where the soil has with high rubidium concentrations. These occur at lower elevations which are better suited for agriculture and permanent human settlement than the high moors. Previous interpretations of archaeological samples from southern Britain may need to be revised considering these new results, but they also highlight the continued need for biosphere sampling and the usefulness of geochemical maps as a routine part of strontium isotope investigations in archaeology."

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