Infrared and Isotopic Evidence for Diagenesis of Bone Apatite at Dos Pilas, Guatemala: Palaeodietary Implications Academic Article uri icon


  • The use of stable carbon isotopic analysis of bone apatite to reconstruct prehistoric diets is hindered by the possibility of diagenetic alteration of carbonate during burial. We examine apatite preservation in Classic Period Maya skeletal remains from Dos Pilas, Guatemala, using Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy (FTIR). We use weight % CO2 evolved from apatite, FTIR carbonate/phosphate absorbance ratios, phosphate peak splitting crystallinity indices, fluoride peaks, and stable oxygen isotopic ratios to identify diagenetic change in apatite chemistry. Isotopically light carbon taken up from burial soil is adequately removed from most Dos Pilas bone by treatment with dilute acetic acid, but more severe alteration cannot be reversed by standard preparation methods. Infrared criteria identify recrystallized apatite in a subset of Dos Pilas burials, that is accompanied by isotopic exchange, and that no longer preserves biogenic 13C. These results illustrate that comparatively recent bone may be diagenetically altered and demonstrate a need for systematic evaluation of mineral integrity in all archaeological bone prior to interpreting paleodiets with apatite 13C. 1996 Academic Press Limited.

published proceedings

  • Journal of Archaeological Science

author list (cited authors)

  • Wright, L. E., & Schwarcz, H. P.

citation count

  • 282

complete list of authors

  • Wright, Lori E||Schwarcz, Henry P

publication date

  • January 1996