Radiogenic and “stable” strontium isotopes in provenance studies: A review and first results on archaeological wood from shipwrecks

Publication date: October 2017Source:Journal of Archaeological Science, Volume 86
Author(s): Fadi Hajj, Anne Poszwa, Julien Bouchez, François Guérold
Different approaches are used to study wood provenance, but most of them are based on tracers in wood that are generally controlled by climatic factors. The strontium isotopic ratio 87Sr/86Sr in trees and soils is related to the signature of the local bedrock. Despite being used in diverse archaeological studies, Sr isotopes have rarely been used to trace the provenance of archaeological wood and especially wood from shipwrecks. In addition, recent analytical advances have allowed the detection of mass-dependent fractionation of Sr isotopes during biogeochemical processes, as reflected in the variation of δ88/86Sr values between different environmental materials. The δ88/86Sr values could be used in conjunction with the 87Sr/86Sr isotope ratio to improve constraints on the sources of Sr in the archaeological materials being studied. This paper discusses the potential and limitations of using both of these Sr isotope ratios to trace the provenance of wood from shipwrecks. We review the 87Sr/86Sr and δ88/86Sr variations in rocks, waters, soils, plants and other living organisms and discuss how to determine the local Sr isotopic signature of potential sites. We also compile a list of known wood post mortem modifications in seawater. Possible implications in terms of the modification of the original Sr isotope ratios of wood during storage in seawater are illustrated through preliminary observations. This paper points out some limitations and perspectives for using Sr isotopes in provenancing wood from shipwrecks, and suggests future research to test and apply this approach for tracing the origin of archaeological wood.