1Department of Archaeology, Durham University, 2NERC Isotope Geosciences Laboratory, 3Department of Archaeological Sciences, University of Bradford
Thursday 1:30-1:45, Galleria North
Understanding paleoclimatological change is an overlooked approach in archaeology to interpreting past cultural adaptations. Although stable oxygen isotope analysis (δ18O) is gaining popularity in the bioarchaeological community as a technique for understanding patterns of mobility and weaning, no studies have adequately demonstrated the viability of using human remains as a proxy for climate change. The East Smithfield Black Death Cemetery (MIN86) in London, England provides a unique opportunity for climate research, as the individuals interred belong to a catastrophic assemblage with a narrow, well-documented date range (1348-1350 C.E.). The beginning of the Late Middle Ages is documented by contemporary sources as experiencing disastrous weather patterns that caused the Great Famine (1315-1317 C.E.) and predated the arrival of the Black Death to London in 1348.
In this study, a methodology is adapted and tested to measure δ18O in incremental sections of dentine from the permanent teeth of eight individuals. Sections of dentine (n=116) from eight maxillary canines and two mandibular third molars provide isotopic values in which diachronic shifts in mean surface temperature (°C) can be observed. 87Sr/86Sr and δ18O from the enamel provides comparative data. Problems regarding contamination, timescale resolution, and the introduction of error when converting δ18O to °C are discussed; solutions for these problems are proposed. This pilot study demonstrates that short-term climate change can be inferred using incremental section of dentine as a paleoclimatological proxy, and highlights the potential uses of this isotopic technique for future research.
This study was funded by the NERC Isotope Geosciences Steering Facility (Grant IP-118-0510) and the Rosemary Cramp Fund.