A refined sampling strategy for intra-tooth stable isotope analysis of mammalian enamel

A. Zazzo*, R. Bendrey, D. Vella, A. P. Moloney, F. J. Monahan, O. Schmidt

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Serial sampling and stable isotope analysis performed along the growth axis of vertebrate tooth enamel records differences attributed to seasonal variation in diet, climate or animal movement. Because several months are required to obtain mature enamel in large mammals, modifications in the isotopic composition of environmental parameters are not instantaneously recorded, and stable isotope analysis of tooth enamel returns a time-averaged signal attenuated in its amplitude relative to the input signal. For convenience, stable isotope profiles are usually determined on the side of the tooth where enamel is thickest. Here we investigate the possibility of improving the time resolution by targeting the side of the tooth where enamel is thinnest. Observation of developing third molars (M3) in sheep shows that the tooth growth rate is not constant but decreases exponentially, while the angle between the first layer of enamel deposited and the enamel-dentine junction increases as a tooth approaches its maximal length. We also noted differences in thickness and geometry of enamel growth between the mesial side (i.e., the side facing the M2) and the buccal side (i.e., the side facing the cheek) of the M3. Carbon and oxygen isotope variations were measured along the M3 teeth from eight sheep raised under controlled conditions. Intra-tooth variability was systematically larger along the mesial side and the difference in amplitude between the two sides was proportional to the time of exposure to the input signal. Although attenuated, the mesial side records variations in the environmental signal more faithfully than the buccal side. This approach can be adapted to other mammals whose teeth show lateral variation in enamel thickness and could potentially be used as an internal check for diagenesis.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-13
Number of pages13
JournalGeochimica et Cosmochimica Acta
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2012


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