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A veritable confusion: use and abuse of isotope analysis in archaeology

Madgwick, Richard, Lamb, Angela, Sloane, Hilary, Nederbragt, Alexandra, Albarella, Umberto, Parker Pearson, Mike and Evans, Jane 2021. A veritable confusion: use and abuse of isotope analysis in archaeology. Archaeological Journal 178 (2) , pp. 361-385. 10.1080/00665983.2021.1911099

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Abstract

The expansion of isotope analyses has transformed the study of past migration and mobility, sometimes providing unexpected and intriguing results. This has, in turn, led to media attention (and concomitant misrepresentation) and scepticism from some archaeologists. Such scepticism is healthy and not always without foundation. Isotope analysis is yet to reach full maturity and challenging issues remain, concerning diagenesis, biosphere mapping resolution and knowledge of the drivers of variation. Bold and over-simplistic interpretations have been presented, especially when relying on single isotope proxies, and researchers have at times been accused of following specific agendas. It is therefore vital to integrate archaeological and environmental evidence to support interpretation. Most importantly, the use of multiple isotope proxies is key: isotope analysis is an exclusive approach and therefore single analyses provide only limited resolution. The growth in isotope research has led to a growth in rebuttals and counter-narratives. Such rebuttals warrant the same critical appraisal that is applied to original research, both of evidence for their assertions and the potential for underlying agendas. This paper takes a case study-based approach focusing on pig movements to Neolithic henge complexes to explore the dangers encountered in secondary use of isotope data.

Item Type: Article
Date Type: Published Online
Status: Published
Schools: History, Archaeology and Religion
Subjects: C Auxiliary Sciences of History > CC Archaeology
Publisher: Taylor & Francis
ISSN: 0066-5983
Date of First Compliant Deposit: 19 May 2021
Date of Acceptance: 18 May 2021
Last Modified: 20 Aug 2021 14:19
URI: http://orca.cardiff.ac.uk/id/eprint/141426

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