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Grupe, Gisela; Klaut, Dominika; Mauder, Markus; Kroeger, Peer; Lang, Amei; Mayr, Christoph; Soellner, Frank (2018): Multi-isotope provenancing of archaeological skeletons including cremations in a reference area of the European Alps. In: Rapid Communications in Mass Spectrometry, Vol. 32, No. 19: pp. 1711-1727
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RationaleDue to the spatial heterogeneity of stable isotope ratios of single elements measured in attempts to georeference bioarchaeological finds, multi-isotope fingerprints are frequently employed under the assumption that similar isotopic signatures are indicative of similar shared environments by the individuals studied. The extraction of the spatial information from multi-isotope datasets, however, is challenging. Methods: Gaussian mixture clustering of six- to seven-dimensional isotopic fingerprints measured in archaeological animal and human bones was performed. Uncremated animal bones served for an isotopic mapping of a specific reference area of eminent archaeological importance, namely the Inn-Eisack-Adige passage across the European Alps. The fingerprints consist of Sr-87/Sr-86, Pb-208/Pb-204, Pb-207/Pb-204, Pb-206/Pb-204, Pb-208/Pb-207, and Pb-206/Pb-207 ratios, and O-18(phosphate) values in uncremated bone apatite, while the thermally unstable O-18 values of human cremations from this region were discarded. Results: The bone finds were successfully decontaminated. Animal and human isotope clusters not only reflect individual similarities in the multi-isotopic fingerprints, but also permit a spatial allocation of the finds. This holds also for cremated finds where the O-18(phosphate) value is no longer informative. To our knowledge, for the first time Pb stable isotopes have been systematically studied in cremated skeletal remains and proved significant in a region that was sought after for its ore deposits in prehistory. Conclusion: sGaussian mixture clustering is a promising method for the interpretation of multi-isotopic fingerprints aiming at detecting and quantifying migration and trade.