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  • Author: Beata Cienkosz-Stepańczak x
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The main objective of oxygen isotope analysis is to determine the probable place of origin of an individual or the reconstruction of migration paths. The research are methodologically based on referencing oxygen isotope ratios of apatite phosphates (δ18Op) to the range of environmental background δ18O, most frequently determined on the basis of precipitation.

The present work is a response to the need for providing background for oxygen isotope studies on skeletons excavated in Poland. Currently there no monitoring of the isotope composition of precipitation water in Poland is conducted. For this reason, based on the data generated in the Online Isotopes In Precipitation Calculator (OIPC), a database was developed, containing δ18O levels in precipitation for locations in which exploration work was carried out in the archaeological fields from Poland. In total, 279 locations were analysed. The result of the data analysis was a complete isotope composition map for Poland with four zones distinguished by δ18Ow values.

The observable differences in oxygen isotope composition of precipitation in Poland are sufficient to trace migrations of individuals and populations, although accurate only at the level of macroregions.


Isotope analyses of bones and teeth allow us to study phenomena which occurred in the history of human species and which are difficult to capture by traditional anthropological methods. Measuring oxygen, nitrogen and carbon isotope levels in the skeleton makes it possible to reconstruct climatic changes, diet and/or the weaning process. Among isotopes used in such analyses are strontium isotopes, helpful in analysing migration and studying the mobility of historical and prehistoric human populations. In this respect, the proportion of two isotopes, the heavier 87Sr and the lighter 86Sr, is measured, following their extraction from the bioapatite of the bone mineral. Released from rocks in the weathering process, strontium permeates individual components of inanimate and animate environments, and then finds its way, together with food, to the human body. Thanks to comprehensive environmental studies and the measurement of the strontium ratio 87Sr/86Sr in various animal tissues it is possible to determine the local isotope background for the environment. Values obtained by analysing human skeletons referenced against the range of environmental isotope variability enable researchers to trace back the location inhabited by the individual or group.


Stable isotope analyses of oxygen are used in anthropology for such purposes as determination of origin of individuals, tracking migration routes or dynamics of human community relocation. The methodology related to oxygen isotope analysis has been founded on the relationship between its isotopic composition within phosphate groups of bone tissue (δ18Op) in individuals being analysed and the water consumed by such individuals (δ18Ow). Such a relationship has been observed in many species of mammals, including humans. However, the influence of culinary practices on the isotopic delta values of apatite phosphates of individuals has not yet been researched. The present study, which was conducted using laboratory rats, is an investigation of the influence of the thermal processing of water drank by such rats on the isotopic composition (δ18Op) of bone apatite. Increasing the value of the isotopic composition of water by about 6.1 ‰ during boiling resulted in an increase in the oxygen isotopic value δ18Op of rats drinking the water by about 4 ‰ (29%). It can be expected that regular consumption of heavily isotopic drinks and foods by humans may cause the δ18Op of individuals to exceed the range of isotopic environmental variability, even by a few per mille.