2 H stable isotope analysis of human tooth enamel: a new tool for forensic human provenancing? Academic Article uri icon

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  • Stable isotope analysis of biogenic tissues such as tooth enamel and bone mineral has become a well-recognised and increasingly important method for determining the provenance of human remains, and it has been used successfully in bio-archaeological studies as well as forensic investigations. In particular, (18)O and (2)H stable isotope signatures of bone and hair, respectively, are well-established proxies of climate (temperature) and source water and are therefore considered as indicators of geographic life trajectories of animals and humans. While the methodology for (2)H analysis of human hair, fingernails, and bone collagen is currently used to determine human provenance, i.e. geographic origin and identify possible migration patterns, studies involving the analysis of (2)H in tooth enamel appear to be nonexistent in the scientific literature. Ground tooth enamel was analysed by continuous-flow isotope ratio mass spectrometry (IRMS) coupled on-line to a high-temperature conversion elemental analyser (TC/EA). An array of tooth enamel samples from archaeological and modern teeth has been analysed under different experimental conditions, and the results of this proof-of-concept study are presented. While no significant differences in (2)H abundance were noted as a result of H exchange studies or different sample preparation protocols, no significant differences or trends in measured δ(2)H-values were observed either with regard to known differences in geographical provenance. We concluded that the δ(2)H-values obtained from tooth enamel could not be used as proxy for a person's geographical origin during adolescence.


  • Holobinko, A
  • Meier-Augenstein, W
  • Kemp, HF
  • Prowse, Tracy
  • Ford, SM

publication date

  • April 15, 2011