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

Long in the tooth: tracing migration using stable isotopes in dental enamel from Byzantine St. Stephen’s


1Department of Anthropology, University of Notre Dame, 2Department of Anthropology, The Ohio State University, 3Department of Sociology, Quinnipiac University, 4Public Health Program, Brown University

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Stable isotope analysis of dental enamel is useful in investigating the geographic origins and migration patterns of ancient human groups. Both strontium (87Sr/86Sr) (n=22) and oxygen (δ18O) (n=15) isotope analyses were performed on samples from St. Stephen’s monastery (5th-7th centuries AD), the largest monastic complex in Byzantine Jerusalem for approximately 100 years. Primary sources provide information on the identities of those who embarked on these journeys, indicating that many originated to the north and east of Palestine. Thus, it was expected that some of those interred at St. Stephen’s were non-locals. This hypothesis was tested by evaluating local 87Sr/86Sr bioavailability, δ18O values of regional precipitation, and the biogeochemical composition of enamel from the monks themselves.

87Sr/86Sr ratios of archaeological fauna revealed a mean of 0.70814±0.00010 (2σ). Human 87Sr/86Sr values exhibit an average of 0.70843±0.00069 (1σ) and are highly variable, ranging from 0.70763 to 0.71045. At least 50% of these individuals fall well outside the locally defined range, indicating a considerable portion of those interred at the monastery were immigrants, and based on textual evidence, pilgrims to Jerusalem. Oxygen isotope results exhibit a similar pattern and confirm the geographic diversity of childhood residence among individuals. These isotopic data validate claims made in the textual record that pilgrims not only traveled to these monasteries from some distance, but that they also stayed. This also confirms St. Stephen’s importance as an early Christian center.

This research was funded by the NSF-REU (SES #1005158) Summer Research Program in Biocultural Anthropology at the University of Notre Dame.

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