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Provenance analysis of Olivella biplicata shell beads from the California and Oregon Coast by stable isotope fingerprinting


While Olivella beads are a common component of archaeological sites in California, and were widely traded in prehistory, no method has been developed to trace individual beads to a point of origin. This study examines the potential of stable carbon and oxygen isotopes to source Olivella beads from the Pacific coast. The study shows that 1) the oxygen isotopic composition of modern Olivella biplicata shells faithfully varies with ambient sea surface temperature and local upwelling, lending themselves to sourcing studies; 2) oxygen isotope ratios in modern shells can be used to identify shells that grow north versus south of Point Conception, California; and 3) shell carbon isotope ratios may further subdivide these two regions into more spatially restricted source zones. Analyses on a small sample of 10 beads found at various archaeological sites within the interior of California suggest that all were made in southern California.

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