Tracing the Source of the Elephant and Hippopotamus Ivory from the 14th Century B.C. Uluburun Shipwreck: The Archaeological, Historical, and Isotopic Evidence
Degree Granting Department
Robert H. Tykot, Ph.D
Brent R. Weisman, Ph.D.
Nancy Marie White, Ph.D.
strontium, late bronze age, isotopes, trade, provenance
The aim of this study is to establish the provenance of the elephant and hippopotamus ivory recovered from the 14th century B.C. Uluburun shipwreck in order to reconstruct the trade mechanisms and associated social relationships (e.g. diplomacy) operating in the eastern Mediterranean during the Late Bronze Age (LBA). Elephant ivory came either from Northeastern Libya, Southeastern Sudan via Egypt or northwestern Syria during this period. Hippopotamus ivory likewise was obtained from Syria, Palestine, or Egypt.
The Uluburun's cargo is reconstructed by the excavator, George Bass, as "royal," and primarily originates from Cyprus and Syro-Palestine. Indeed, LBA trade is largely understood as gift-exchange between ruling elites, thereby reflecting a trade system organized by and for a centralized authority. With the transition to the Iron Age, an identifiable merchant class developed and decentralized trade (relative to the preceding era) under a system of cabotage shipping. If the ivory is shown to derive from several regions instead of a single location, a revision of LBA trade must be fashioned to include ruling elites acting as "merchants" to a larger degree than previously assumed, or the web of social relationships involved in "international" diplomacy as much more intricate. Indeed, the mechanisms of the LBA trade must be established to provide a complete picture of trade, especially since the import and historical data is biased towards a simplistic, centralized trade system.
The δ13C, δ15N, and δ18O reflect the climate and vegetation of the area in which a population dwells, so that areas with similar climate/vegetation will produce similar isotopic signatures, though these areas may be geographically seperated. Nevertheless, examining 87Sr/86Sr ratios will distinguish between populations because 87Sr/86Sr mirrors the isotopic signature of the underlying rock, and is sufficiently unique to each region to warrant differentiation.
Isotopic ratio analysis (carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, and/or strontium) was conducted on the collagen and apatite components of the ivory using mass spectrometry to differentiate between regions and therefore provide the provenance. Ultimately a source determination utilizing HR-ICP-MS for 87Sr/86Sr was not successful. Future provenance research on ivory should employ TIMS, and consider triangulating 87Sr/86Sr against lead and neodymium isotopes.
Scholar Commons Citation
Lafrenz, Kathryn Anne, "Tracing the Source of the Elephant and Hippopotamus Ivory from the 14th Century B.C. Uluburun Shipwreck: The Archaeological, Historical, and Isotopic Evidence" (2004). USF Tampa Graduate Theses and Dissertations.