Immigration to Tikal, Guatemala: Evidence from stable strontium and oxygen isotopes Academic Article uri icon


  • This paper presents strontium and oxygen isotopic measurements on archaeological human teeth from the ancient Maya city of Tikal, Guatemala, that illuminate the role that migration played in the history of the state. Stable strontium isotope ratios of human teeth parallel the bedrock geology of the location where foods were grown, while stable oxygen isotope ratios reflect the sources of water imbibed, and track geographic variation in the isotopic composition of rain water. Because tooth enamel forms during childhood and is not remodeled during life, we can identify foreign-born individuals at Tikal by their outlying strontium and oxygen isotope ratios. These data indicate that approximately 11-16% of the sampled Tikal skeletons spent their childhood at distant sites. Most of the migrant burials date from the Early Classic period and are high status contexts. Several royal burials demonstrate long distance movement of both males and females, and shed light on the identification of epigraphically-known individuals. Yet, both Early and Late Classic migrants are found in lower status domestic burials. Interaction with distant peers was important in the rise of the Tikal polity, however, immigration from all social tiers contributed to the city's rapid population growth. 2012 Elsevier Inc.

published proceedings


altmetric score

  • 3

author list (cited authors)

  • Wright, L. E.

citation count

  • 60

complete list of authors

  • Wright, Lori E

publication date

  • January 2012