The 81st Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (2012)

Residential mobility and social identity in the periphery: strontium isotope analysis of archaeological tooth enamel from southeastern Arabia


Department of Anthropology, The Ohio State University

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Strontium isotope analysis represents an effective means of assessing mobility and reconstructing geographic residence patterns in archaeological populations. This biogeochemical technique was utilized to test the hypothesis that burgeoning interregional exchange networks and the occurrence of exotic grave goods in local tombs would correspond with a highly mobile population and a considerable immigrant presence during the Umm an-Nar (2500-2000 BC) period in the UAE. This region has been considered peripheral relative to larger civilizations in Mesopotamia and the Indus Valley, but played an important role as a major supplier of copper for the Persian Gulf. Individuals (n=100) from six Umm an-Nar tombs (Mowaihat; Tell Abraq; Umm an-Nar Island I, II, V; Unar 1) were selected to evaluate the geographic origins of tomb members.

Mean 87Sr/86Sr ratios from local individuals interred at Mowaihat (0.708863±0.000014; 1σ, n=12), Tell Abraq (0.708873±0.000020; 1σ, n=27), Umm an-Nar Island (0.708902± 0.000079; 1σ, n=33), and Unar 1 (0.708805±0.000065; 1σ, n=25) all display little isotopic variability indicative of a population that was not highly mobile. However, coupled with archaeological evidence, three immigrants from Tell Abraq (n=2) and Mowaihat (n=1) identified by deviant strontium values suggest that this region was actively engaged in interregional interaction. Despite claims that these monumental tombs acted as visible markers of territoriality legitimized by ancestors buried within them, the presence of non-locals suggests that as commerce became increasingly important, definitions of kinship and social identity may have become more flexible to better meet the needs of the local community and those they interacted with.

This research was supported by a National Science Foundation Doctoral Dissertation Research Improvement Grant (BCS 0961932), the Philanthropic Educational Organization (PEO) Scholar Award, the Ruggles-Gates Fund for Biological Anthropology, a Sigma Xi Grant-in-Aid of Research, an Ohio State International Affairs Grant, and an Ohio State Alumni Grant for Graduate Research and Scholarship.

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