Isotopes and Environments

From Jennifer Jones:

Happy Day of Archaeology! Today is a little unusual for me. I’m in Tokyo Japan, getting ready to travel to Nagoya tomorrow for the International Quaternary Union conference where I will be presenting some of my research about past climate change in the Palaeolithic, and will get the chance to hear the most up to date research on climate change, environments, and human behaviour. Going to conferences is a crucial way for archaeologists to share research, make connections within the wider archaeological and research community, and to debate and discuss key research themes.


Today is a day off for me, and I visited Meiji shrine, a Shinto shrine dedicated to the Emperor Meiji and his wife, Empress Shōken, set in a huge man made forest of 120,000 trees of 365 different species donated from across Japan. This shows the huge impact that humans can have on the local environment, and even thought it was only created in the last 100 years, the forest dominates this piece of land in the centre of the city and makes for a very striking landscape.

Jennifer Jones

I am a Marie Curie funded Post-Doctoral Research Fellow based at the University of Cantabria in the North of Spain. The Cantabrian region is home to the world heritage site that encompasses the rich archaeological cave sites full or fantastic cave paintings, animal bones, portable art, and stone tools. My project ‘CLIMAPROX’ “Hunter-Gatherer adaptations in northern Iberian Refugia from the Last Glacial Maximum to the Mesolithic: a multi-proxy climatic investigation” is exploring changes in environment using stable isotope analysis of animal bones in combination with other environmental proxies (e.g. sediments, pollen, microfauna, and fauna) to understand human responses to environmental change from the Last Glagical Maximum to the Mesolithic (c.22,000-8000 BP) in the Cantabrian Region in Northern Spain. This was an important period of time, where several key things happened; there was an increase in population, we see the emergence of cave art and portable art, and we see a greater diversification in diet at the end of this time, which ultimately leads to the origins of farming in the Neolithic. I want to find out the role of the environment in driving these changes, and how the environment affected human behaviour at this crucial time in prehistory.

Recently I’ve been sampling animal bones to undertake stable isotope analysis from sites for isotopic analysis which involves visiting museum collections, to find suitable bone samples to choose for isotopic analysis. I have to make a full written and photographic record of all of the bones before I cut, them to ensure that sampling is as minimally destructive as possible. I am very privileged to work with these collections, and it is always very exciting to know that from these bones we can find out lots of valuable information about past environments. I’ve enjoyed looking out for cut marks, and marrow cracking marks on the bones-evidence that humans were using these animals as food.

Next I have lots of lab work to pre-treat the bones to extract the collagen for carbon and nitrogen analysis. I enjoy lab work, and there is a real thrill when you get back the results after all of your hard work. After that there is the fun of working out what they all mean! Hopefully for next year’s day of archaeology I will have lots of interesting and exciting results to tell you about!