Wednesday, March 25, 2009

SAS veterans Doug Price and Jim Burton in the news

One of the stalwart archaeometric labs in the U.S. is the Laboratory for Archaeological Chemistry at the University of Wisconsin (lab logo at right). Doug Price is Director and Jim Burton is Associate Director. Both have been active in SAS over the years, Doug as President in 1989-1990, and Jim as Vice-President, President (1991-93), webmeister, and now SAS associate editor for the journal Archaeometry. You can read how they fit into our history in a piece I wrote when SAS reached its 25th birthday.

Doug and Jim made the news recently with research they did on the teeth of Columbus crew. As reported in a EurekaAlert from the AAAS, they used carbon, oxygen and strontium isotopes on human remains from La Isabela, the first European town in America, which was thought to have had a population made up only of men from the fleet of 17 vessels that comprised Columbus's second visit to the New World. But the first analysis of the remains of 20 individuals excavated two decades ago suggests that native Taínos, women and children, and possibly individuals of African origin were living with the Spaniards at La Isabela. If confirmed, that would put Africans in the New World as contemporaries of Columbus decades before they were believed to have first arrived as slaves.

Strontium is found in bedrock and enters the body through the food chain as nutrients pass from bedrock to soil and water and, ultimately, to plants and animals. The strontium isotopes found in tooth enamel, the most stable and durable material in the human body, provides a signature of where someone lived as a child. Carbon isotope ratios provide evidence of diet at the time an individual's adult teeth emerge in childhood. Oxygen isotopes provide information about water consumption and also can say something about geography as the isotopic composition of water changes in relation to latitude and proximity to the ocean.

Three of the individuals whose teeth were subjected to isotopic analysis by the Wisconsin group were males under the age of 40 and who had carbon isotope profiles far different from the rest, suggesting an Old World origin. "I would bet money this person was an African," Price says of one of the three individuals whose teeth were subjected to analysis.

Jim Burton and Doug Price, Lab for Archaeological Chemistry

Nice work, Doug and Jim!

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