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Isotope Archaeology


Admission requirements

  • This is a seminar with a limited amount of participants (20 students), for Archaeology students exclusively;

  • This is not an optional course for the Archaeology BA3 programme. If you want to take this course as an extra-curricular course in your programme, you should ask permission from the Board of Examiners. You can only be admitted with permission, with proper argumentation, and only if there are spots left.


This course deals with the wide ranges of applications of isotope data that are relevant to archaeological research. These vary from the research in the origin of peoples, mobility/exchange patterns, diet, climate change and environmental reconstruction.
The potentials and limitations of various types of isotope analyses and data will be explored.

Course set-up

2 hour introductory lecture, followed by 1 hour discussion, and then 1 hour of independent study.

Course objectives

  • Basic knowledge of the theoretical background of different methods applied in isotope research;

  • Knowledge of the wide range of applications of isotopic data in archaeological research;

  • Awareness of the potentials as well as the limitations of the different isotopic methods.


Course schedule details can be found in MyTimetable.
Log in with your ULCN account, and add this course using the 'Add timetable' button.

Mode of instruction

  • Weekly lectures;

  • Weekly discussions.

Course load

  • 7 × 2 hours of lectures (1 ec);

  • 7 x 1 hours of practicals/discussions (0.5 ec);

  • Ca. 200 pages of literature, including weekly assignments (1.5 ec);

  • Final essay of 3,000 words (1 ec).

Assessment method

  • Weekly written assignments (6x) (30%);

  • Essay on one of the techniques addressed in the case studies, including finding additional literature (70%).

If you fail the final paper essay, there is an opportunity for a retake of the final essay only. Assignments cannot be retaken.

Assessment deadlines

All assessment deadlines (exams, retakes, paper deadlines etc.) can be found in MyTimetable.
Log in with your ULCN account, and add this course using the 'Add timetable' button. To view the assessment deadline(s), make sure to select the course with a code ending in T and/or R.

The individual weekly assignments are due before that week’s lecture.

Reading list

Assigned readings (subject to change):

General Introduction
Overview: Makarewicz & Sealy 2015 "Journal of Archaeological Science 56": 146-158 (9 pgs.)

Isotopes and Paleo-Diet Stable Isotopes and Diet: Lee-Thorp 2008 "Archaeometry 50": 925-950 (20 pgs.)

Isotopes and Paleo-Mobility Sr and Mobility: Slovak & Paytan 2011 "Advances in Isotope Geochemistry". 743-768 (22 pgs.)

Isotopes and Paleo-Ecology
Climate: Fricke et al 1995 "Geology Special Reports 23": 869-872 (4 pgs.)
Climate: Curtis et al. 1996 "Quaternary Research 46": 37-47 (10 pgs.)

Isotopes and Material Analysis
Materials: Degryse & Schneider 2008 "Journal of Archaeological Science 35": 1993-2000 (7 pgs.) Renson et al. 2014 "Archaeometry 56": 261-278 (14 pgs.)

Isotopes and Dating
Radiocarbon Dating: Walker 2005 "Radiometric Dating 1. Quaternary dating Methods". 17-36 (21 pgs.)

Recent Advances & Future Directions
Forensics: Font et al. 2015 "Science & Justice 55": 10-17 (7 pgs.)
Provenance: Laffoon et al. 2017 "PLoS ONE 12(2)": e0172562 (14 pgs.)


Registration in uSis is mandatory. You can register for this course until 5 days before the first class.

Registration in uSis automatically leads to enrollment in the corresponding Brightspace module. Therefore you do not need to enroll in Brightspace, but make sure to register for this course in uSis.

You are required to register for all lectures and tutorials well in time. The Administration Office registers all students for their exams, you are not required to do this in uSis.

Start registration for the BA2 seminars:

  • Series 1: 27 September 2021, 07:00 hrs

  • Series 2: 17 January 2022, 07:00 hrs

  • Series 3: 28 February 2022, 07:00 hrs


For more information about this course, please contact dr. J.E. (Jason) Laffoon.