Isotope analysis is the identification of isotopic signature, the abundance of certain stable isotopes and chemical elements within organic and inorganic compounds.Isotopic analysis can be used to understand the flow of energy through a food web, to reconstruct past environmental and climatic conditions, to investigate human and animal diets in the past, for food authentification, and a variety of other physical, geological, palaeontological and chemical processes.Stable isotope ratios are measured using mass spectrometry, which separates the different isotopes of an element on the basis of their mass-to-charge ratio.Isotopic oxygen is incorporated into the body primarily through ingestion at which point it is used in the formation of, for archaeological purposes, bones and teeth.Isotope analysis has been particularly useful in archaeology as a means of characterization.Characterization of artifacts involves determining the isotopic composition of possible source materials such as metal ore bodies and comparing these data to the isotopic composition of analyzed artifacts.
Breast milk production draws upon the body water of the mother, which has higher levels of O through sweat, urine, and expired water vapour.
Teeth are not subject to continual remodelling and so their isotopic oxygen ratios remain constant from the time of formation.
The isotopic oxygen ratios, then, of teeth represent the ratios of the region in which the individual was born and raised.
A wide range of archaeological materials such as metals, glass and lead-based pigments have been sourced using isotopic characterization.
Particularly in the Bronze Age Mediterranean, lead isotope analysis has been a useful tool for determining the sources of metals and an important indicator of trade patterns.