Lead (Pb) isotope baselines for studies of ancient human migration and trade in the maya region

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Abstract

We examined the potential use of lead (Pb) isotopes to source archaeological materials from the Maya region of Mesoamerica. The main objectives were to determine if: 1) geologic terrains throughout the Maya area exhibit distinct lead isotope ratios (206 Pb/204 Pb, 207Pb/204 Pb, and208 Pb/204 Pb), and 2) a combination of lead and strontium ratios can enhance sourcing procedures in the Mesoamerica region. We analyzed 60 rock samples for lead isotope ratios and a representative subset of samples for lead, uranium, and thorium concentrations across the Maya region, including the Northern Lowlands of the Mexican Yucatan Peninsula, the Southern Lowlands of Guatemala and Belize, the Volcanic Highlands, the Belizean Maya Mountains, and the Metamorphic Province/Motagua Valley. Although there is some overlap within certain sub-regions, particularly the geologically diverse Metamorphic Province, lead isotopes can be used to distinguish between the Northern Lowlands, the Southern Lowlands, and the Volcanic Highlands. The distinct lead isotope ratios in the sub-regions are related to the geology of the Maya area, exhibiting a general trend in the lowlands of geologically younger rocks in the north to older rocks in the south, and Cenozoic volcanic rocks in the southern highlands. Combined with other sourcing techniques such as strontium (87 Sr/86Sr) and oxygen (δ18 O), a regional baseline for lead isotope ratios can contribute to the development of lead isoscapes in the Maya area, and may help to distinguish among geographic sub-regions at a finer scale than has been previously possible. These isotope baselines will provide archaeologists with an additional tool to track the origin and movement of ancient humans and artifacts across this important region.

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Sharpe, A. E., Kamenov, G. D., Gilli, A., Hodell, D. A., Emery, K. F., Brenner, M., & Krigbaum, J. (2016). Lead (Pb) isotope baselines for studies of ancient human migration and trade in the maya region. PLoS ONE, 11(11). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0164871

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