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Mauder, M.; Ntoutsi, E.; Kröger, P.; Mayr, C.; Toncala, A.; Hölzl, S.; Grupe, G. (2019): Significance and Limitations of Stable Oxygen Isotope Ratios in the Apatite Phosphate of Archaeological Vertebrate Finds for Provenance Analysis in an Alpine Reference Region. In: Archaeometry, Vol. 61, No. 1: pp. 194-210
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A multi-isotope fingerprint consisting of delta O-18(phosphate), 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 was established in the bioapatite of 219 individual archaeofaunal remains (cattle, pig, red deer) excavated from sites located along a specific transect of the European Alps, namely the Inn-Eisack-Adige-Brenner Passage, that has been of eminent importance since European prehistory. This reference area is vertically stratified, and since delta O-18 in the skeleton is influenced by climate, water source, physiology and even culture, we tested the relative contribution and importance of delta O-18 as a component of the multi-isotope fingerprint for provenance analysis in this alpine region by a novel mathematical approach. In particular, we adapted a supervised learning approach through expectation-maximization (EM) clustering for fingerprint extraction and evaluated the contribution of each isotopic ratio to the data structure. While an altitude effect was evident in delta O-18, its overall structural importance in the complete isotopic fingerprint was rather low. Therefore, provenance analysis of bioarchaeological finds in this region is possible by measuring stable Sr and Pb ratios alone, which is of considerable importance when delta O-18 values are not available, e.g., in cremated finds, although some information is lost. Whether this is tolerable depends on the scientific question to be solved.