Project 2 – Human Mobility and the Circulation of Materials and Objects

Principal Investigator: Prof. Gareth R. Davies, PhD


Three sub-projects within Project 2 focus on the development and application of a diverse array of archaeometric and biogeochemical methods to address transformations in patterns of human mobility and diet and the circulation of materials and objects across the historical divide.

Technique Optimization

Methodological development will focus on two core aspects: (1) optimisation of analytical methodologies using cutting-edge collector technology to obtain Sr-Nd-Pb isotopic ratios on sub ng samples, and (2) extracting provenance information from bone material previously considered unsuitable due to potential diagenetic effects. One important aspect of this study will be validation that miniaturised ultra low blank techniques (~pg) are viable for samples with different matrixes. The second aspect will evaluate the potential of extracting Sr from bone protein. Elemental turnover times for collagen, osteocalcin and bioapatite in bones of different densities will be tested using human tissues of individuals known to have changed location during their life time. Further validation work will be conducted on human bones with known depositional history to establish the veracity of Sr isotopes as a provenance indicator in an archaeological context. If successful, comparison of Sr isotopes between tooth enamel and bone osteocalcin has the potential to provide direct evidence of migration of an individual.

Isotopic Perspective on Human Mobility or Diet

Recent multi-disciplinary research has revealed that complex and diverse patterns of mobility existed among various pre-colonial Caribbean populations, patterns that varied significantly over space and time. To date, integrated isotopic approaches using multiple isotope analysis have not been extensively applied in the Caribbean despite their great potential to assess the transformations of mobility and dietary patterns across the historical divide and at varying temporal and spatial scales. This research will apply C-N-O-Sr isotope analysis to archaeological human remains using IRMS and TIMS to examine transformations in patterns of Amerindian mobility and diet across the historical divide. This study builds on large isotope databases of Caribbean populations. Another study will assess the efficacy of lead (Pb) and neodymium (Nd) isotopes in dental enamel as provenance indicators. Pb elemental concentrations and Pb isotope analyses of human remains can be used to identify access to metallurgical technologies that were absent in the pre-colonial Caribbean. Identification of exposure to anthropogenic Pb can provide empirical evidence of cultural provenance and the differential adoption of European cultural traditions, especially in mixed burial populations spanning the pre-colonial and colonial eras.

Circulation of Materials and Objects

Despite their potential to substantially improve our understandings of the specific nature and scale of socio-economic transformations during the onset of the colonial period, provenance studies of archaeological materials are still underutilized in the Caribbean. This study will determine isotopic and elemental compositional signatures imprinted in artefacts spanning the historical divide. Pottery, lithic, and metal artefacts and objects of both Amerindian and European origin will be analyzed to determine their provenance and geographical distribution. One subproject will determine the compositional characteristics of late pre-colonial and early colonial ceramic and lithic assemblages, and characterise potential raw material sources and provenance areas of finished objects. Particular focus will be laid on transformations in the utilisation of source areas and materials through time. The integration of multiple isotopic and elemental analytical methodologies should prove particularly effective in recognising distinct clay and lithic sources. The other study will evaluate and apply different methods for minimally destructive sampling, chemical characterisation, and isotope analysis of highquality artefacts, such as items of personal adornment, to determine their provenance. Use of a portable laser sampling system, an essentially non-destructive methodology, will permit the analysis of rare or unique artefacts. Optimisation of sampling methods in general and minimisation of sample sizes (and thus damage to artefacts) in particular will greatly enhance the number and types of archaeometric methods that can be applied to rare and unique objects that cannot be analysed with traditional methods.

Macroscopically non-destructive sampling of greenstone and jadeitite artefacts to investigate trade routes used by Caribbean communities around the Colonial contact period.