Technical note: some observations on the conversion of dental enamel δ18O(p) values to δ18O(w) to determine human mobility

Am J Phys Anthropol. 2011 Jul;145(3):499-504. doi: 10.1002/ajpa.21524. Epub 2011 May 3.


It has become a widespread practice to convert δ(18)O(p) values measured in human and animal dental enamel to a corresponding value of δ(18)O(w) and compare these data with mapped δ(18)O(w) groundwater or meteoric water values to locate the region where the owner of the tooth lived during the formation of the enamel. Because this is a regression procedure, the errors associated with the predicted δ(18)O(w) values will depend critically on the correlation between the comparative data used to perform the regression. By comparing four widely used regression equations we demonstrate that the smallest 95% error is likely to be greater than ±1% in δ(18)O(w) , and could be as large as ±3.5%. These values are significantly higher than those quoted in some of the recent literature, and measurements with errors at the higher end of this range would render many of the published geographical attributions statistically unsupportable. We suggest that the simplest solution to this situation is to make geographical attributions based on the direct comparison of measured values of δ(18)O(p) rather than on predicted values of δ(18)O(w).

MeSH terms

  • Algorithms
  • Animals
  • Dental Enamel / chemistry*
  • Emigration and Immigration*
  • Humans
  • Linear Models
  • Oxygen Isotopes / analysis*
  • Oxygen Isotopes / metabolism
  • Residence Characteristics
  • Tooth* / growth & development
  • Tooth* / metabolism
  • Water Supply / analysis*


  • Oxygen Isotopes