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

Defining local and regional strontium isotopic variability in the southeastern Maya periphery


Anthropology, Texas A&M University

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Stable strontium isotopes are a useful tool to aid the identification of individuals in a human skeletal population who are of non-local birth. This technique is imperfect, and the possibility remains that behavioral factors may confound the interpretation of results.

The southern Belize region is typically considered geographically and culturally peripheral to the primary activity of Ancient Maya prehistory. Researchers have suggested that from the Early Classic on, southern Belize functioned as an important trade route between the Caribbean Sea and inland urban centers. Orthogeomys hispidus and Pachychilus samples were collected from numerous locals throughout greater southern Belize region. Strontium isotopic ratios (87Sr/86Sr) obtained from these samples served as proxies to estimate the locally expected ranges of biologically available strontium for humans who inhabited sites throughout the region. 87Sr/86Sr values were obtained from the dental enamel of 30 adult and subadult individuals interred from the Preclassic to Late Classic Period southern Belize site of Uxbenká.

The results of this study indicate that the strontium isotopic data suggest that all individuals recovered from Uxbenká have strontium ratios which fall outside the range expected for the local area. Although the possibility does exist that no individual in this study did in fact live at Uxbenká during their childhood, other, more plausible explanations include access to foreign foods or condiments with higher 87Sr/86Sr ratios (e.g. marine resources, salt, lime) in the diet. These data stress the importance for multiple lines of evidence when undertaking strontium isotopic studies on ancient human populations.

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