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In situ oxygen isotope analysis of faunal material using a secondary ion micro-probe:
a new tool for palaeoecology and archaeology.

Maxime Aubert1, Ian Williams1, Rainer Grün1, Tegan Kelly1, Ian Moffat1 and Marie-Hélène Moncel2


1 Research School of Earth Sciences, Australian National University, Canberra, ACT  0200, Australia
2 Département de Préhistoire Muséum National d'Histoire Naturelle 1 Rue René Panhard, 75013 Paris, France

Figure 1. Oxygen isotopic compositions of a fossil otolith from the Australian Willandra Lakes World Heritage area showing a general trend to heavier oxygen isotopes, indicating an enrichment in heavy isotopes due to increased evaporation


We have applied in situ oxygen isotope analysis on Neanderthal and herbivore teeth from the archaeological site of Payre as well as fossil fish otoliths from Australia. The high resolution of the oxygen isotope analysis allows weekly to bi-weekly resolution of human teeth. We observed large variations in the oxygen isotopic composition in the enamel of herbivore teeth, which were on a scale expected from seasonal variations. The range of isotopic variations in Neanderthal tooth enamel was much smaller, perhaps reflecting a more restricted range of diet and/or more uniform sources of drinking water when the teeth were growing. The application of fish otoliths from the Australian Willandra Lakes World Heritage area showed significant isotopic variations indicating seasonal variations but also a general trend towards heavier oxygen isotopes, which may be due to an enrichment in heavy isotopes as a result of increased evaporation (Fig 1). We will pursue with the oxygen isotope research on fish otoliths as these seem ideal archives of past environmental conditions.