Mg/Ca profiles within archaeological mollusc (Patella vulgata) shells: Laser-Induced Breakdown Spectroscopy compared to Inductively Coupled Plasma-Optical Emission Spectrometry
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AuthorGarcía Escárzaga, Asier; Clarke, Leon J.; Gutiérrez Zugasti, Fernando Igor; González Morales, Manuel Ramón; Martínez Minchero, Marina; López Higuera, José Miguel; Cobo García, Adolfo
Biogenic carbonate mollusc shells have the unique property of being a durable material found in many archaeological and geological sites, recording in their shell chemical composition the ambient environmental conditions during the mollusc's lifespan. In particular, mollusc shell Mg/Ca ratios have been suggested to be related to seawater temperature, although such a relationship is controversial and appears to be species- and even location-specific. This study investigates the use of Laser-Induced Breakdown Spectroscopy (LIBS) for the rapid measurement of Mg/Ca profiles within Patella vulgata shells, via comparison with one established analytical technique that is most often used for this purpose, ICP-OES. LIBS offers some advantages over other spectrometric techniques, including ICP-OES, the latter requiring initial micromilling of sample powders. LIBS offers faster measurement, reduced sample preparation, easier automation and less complex and lower cost instrumentation. A high correlation is evident between LIBS and ICP-OES Mg/Ca profiles within four archaeological P. vulgata shells, as well as strong similarities between LIBS measurements made in two different areas of each P. vulgata shell (i.e. the apex and a more conventional transect along the axis of shell growth). Validation of the LIBS technique for determination of Mg/Ca profiles within P. vulgata shells has implications for archaeological studies, because a greater number of shell specimens sampled from each archaeological site and chronological level can be measured, thereby improving the statistical robustness of data interpretation and conclusions. One example archaeological application that would benefit from application of the LIBS technique is identification of the season-of-capture of marine molluscs as a food resource for prehistoric societies.