Calcined bone provides a reliable substrate for strontium isotope ratios as shown by an enrichment experiment

Christophe Snoeck, Rick Schulting, Julia Lee-Thorp, Jeroen de Jong, Wendy Debouge, Nadine Mattielli

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

53 Citations (Scopus)


RATIONALE: Strontium isotopes (87Sr/86Sr) are used in archaeological and forensic science as markers of residence or mobility because they reflect the local geological substrate. Currently, tooth enamel is considered to be the most reliable tissue, but it rarely survives heating so that in cremations only calcined bone fragments survive. We set out to test the proposition that calcined bone might prove resistant to diagenesis, given its relatively high crystallinity, as the ability to measure in vivo 87Sr/86Sr from calcined bone would greatly extend application to places and periods in which cremation was the dominant mortuary practice, or where unburned bone and enamel do not survive.

METHODS: Tooth enamel and calcined bone samples were exposed to a 87Sr-spiked solution for up to 1 year. Samples were removed after various intervals, and attempts were made to remove the contamination using acetic acid washes
and ultrasonication. 87Sr/86Sr was measured before and after pre-treatment on a Nu Plasma multi-collector induced coupled plasma mass spectrometer using NBS987 as a standard.

RESULTS: The strontium isotopic ratios of all samples immersed in the spiked solution were strongly modified showing that significant amounts of strontium had been adsorbed or incorporated. After pre-treatment the enamel samples still contained significant amounts of 87Sr-enriched contamination while the calcined bone fragments did not.

CONCLUSIONS: The results of the artificial enrichment experiment demonstrate that calcined bone is more resistant to post-mortem exchange than tooth enamel, and that in vivo strontium isotopic ratios are retained in calcined bone.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)107-114
Number of pages8
JournalRapid Communications in Mass Spectrometry
Publication statusPublished - 2015


  • cremation
  • Strontium isotopes


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