Potential of the petrous part of the human temporal (ear) bone for isotope analysis

Dr Rachel Wood1, Ms Katherine Dunn, Dr Hannah James, Prof Stewart  Fallon

1Australian National University, , Australia

Tooth enamel contains a valuable strontium isotope record which archaeologists and forensic scientists often use to establish where a person did (or did not) spend their childhood. However, tooth enamel rarely survives cremation. In periods where cremation is common, our understanding of mobility is therefore limited and interpretations biased towards individuals from particular burial practices. The petrous (ear) bone may capture an isotopic record at multiple points during life. The otic capsule of the petrous (ear) bone is thought to form before the age of two and not remodel. The otic capsule is surrounded by other dense bone, and this by spongy bone, each with different remodeling rates. The bone often survives cremation and retains its strontium isotope ratio through the burning and later diagenesis processes, and may provide an alternative for isotopic analysis of enamel. This project aimed to confirm remodeling of the petrous bone with radiocarbon. It found that the otic capsule did not remodel after childhood, but that limited and substantial amounts of remodeling occurred in the cortical and spongy bone respectively.


Rachel Wood is a senior lecturer split between the School of Archaeology and Anthropology and Research School of Earth Sciences at the Australian National University. Her research has focused on constructing archaeological chronologies and the development of pretreatment procedures.

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Nov 17 2021


12:00 pm - 12:40 pm