The first part of this paper is a brief critical history of the use of Pb isotopes for inferring the geological provenance of archaeological materials, with an emphasis on non-ferrous metals. The second part examines variation in the Pb isotopic ratios of oxide and sulphide ore minerals in selected regions of the world, and relates these to the geological histories of ore formation in each region. This exercise shows that in regions where most ore deposits are of similar geological age—as in the Andes, Europe and the circum-Mediterranean—provenance analysis with Pb isotopes is inherently difficult because geographically distant sources often exhibit similar isotopic ratios. Conversely, regions with many periods of ore formation—such as southern Africa—appear to be very promising regions for future studies of provenance with Pb isotopes. The wider implication of this exploratory survey is that archaeologists should carefully consider the range and clustering of geological Pb isotopic ratios in their regions of interest before investing large sums of money into Pb isotopic analysis of artefacts.
- lead isotopes
ASJC Scopus subject areas