A team of archaeologists from Flinders University has recently uncovered the origins of early colonists in South Australia using strontium isotope analysis. They used this technique with the teeth they excavated from unmarked graves on the grounds of the Anglican Parish of St. Mary’s Church graves.
Using new archaeological techniques
The study aimed to discover the origins of the people during the colonial migration before 1880. Associate Professor Ian Moffat notes that their research proved the significance of isotope methods and stressed the importance of birth-origin tests in case studies. He also revealed the use of these techniques in hypothesis testing, saying that “strontium isotope methods can be used to test a specific hypothesis rather than just being used to confirm a general location.”
I'm thrilled that this paper using isotope analysis to determine the geographic origin of a colonial period cemetery population at the St Mary's cemetery, led by @FLINArchaeology student Christine Adams, has been published in @AustArchJ! @flinders https://t.co/LboMMMyf17
— Ian Moffat (@Archaeometry) July 4, 2022
The researchers have analyzed the samples of the teeth’s dentine and enamel using strontium isotope and found that the early colonizers originated from Britain and Ireland, with a few others hailing from other countries. employs published baseline data to infer the origins of the people from the cemetery.
According to lead researcher Christine Adams, a sample size of 13 individuals was tested, with four teeth taken from each, making it a total of 52 teeth samples. Half of the samples used the strontium isotope method to check for enamel and dentine. Moreover, there’s potential for complexity in comparing tooth isotope values and baseline mapping. This is because of breastfeeding, post-burial diagenesis, and high seafood diet. All these greatly affect the research results.
Tooth samples from the St Mary’s Cemetery in Adelaide are currently being analysed using Thermal Ionisation Mass Spectrometry. This will measure the strontium isotope composition of these samples to try to work out where these early colonists came from!@FLINArchaeology @Flinders pic.twitter.com/zRU4ogvjWN
— Ian Moffat (@Archaeometry) June 18, 2019
This research was conducted as a Master of Archaeology and Cultural Heritage Management program thesis component. It received support from the EHL grant and Australian Research Council grants. The use of strontium isotopes to test the origins of the early people who came into Australia can be vital to finding out their living conditions and what they used to consume which led to the evolution of how people are living today.