Strontium isotope ratios in fossil teeth from South Africa: assessing laser ablation MC-ICP-MS analysis and the extent of diagenesis Academic Article uri icon


  • This study tests the precision and accuracy of laser ablation multi-collector inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry (LA-MC-ICP-MS) for measuring strontium isotope ratios (87Sr/86Sr) in fossil teeth from Swartkrans and Sterkfontein in South Africa, and explores the extent of diagenesis in these specimens. Compared to solution MC-ICP-MS or thermal ionization mass spectrometry (TIMS) methods, LA-MC-ICP-MS can be faster and less expensive, but has lower precision and accuracy. We found that 87Sr/86Sr ratios in fossil rodent teeth measured by LA-MC-ICP-MS were offset from solution values by a mean of 0.0005 0.0010 (2). Because of the very wide spread of biologically available 87Sr/86Sr ratios (0.710 to 0.790) in the region, LA-MC-ICP-MS is more than sufficient for assessing the geographic origins of the fossil rodents. The concentration of strontium in modern and fossil enamel from the area is statistically indistinguishable, as is the range of 87Sr/86Sr ratios in modern rodents and fossil rodents from Swartkrans. Thus, there is little evidence of diagenetic Sr in the fossil enamel. In contrast, the fossil dentine may contain up to 50% diagenetic strontium, although many dentine 87Sr/86Sr ratios are still far removed from the background cave value of 0.729. We propose that LA-MC-ICP-MS will also be of use for investigating the geographic origins of other, non-rodent fossil teeth from the Sterkfontein and Swartkrans collections, and may prove of similar utility at other suitable sites. 2010 Elsevier Ltd.

published proceedings


author list (cited authors)

  • Copeland, S. R., Sponheimer, M., Lee-Thorp, J. A., le Roux, P. J., de Ruiter, D. J., & Richards, M. P.

citation count

  • 53

complete list of authors

  • Copeland, Sandi R||Sponheimer, Matt||Lee-Thorp, Julia A||le Roux, Petrus J||de Ruiter, Darryl J||Richards, Michael P

publication date

  • January 2010