A modern baseline for the paired isotopic analysis of skin and bone in terrestrial mammals

Sean Doherty, Matthew James Collins, Alison Harris, Ainara Sistiaga, Jason Newton, Michelle Marie Alexander

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


We present the isotopic discrimination between paired skin and bone collagen from animals of known life history, providing a modern baseline for the interpretation of archaeological isotopic data. At present, the interpretation of inter-tissue variation (Δ(skin–bone)) in mummified remains is based on comparisons with other archaeological material, which have attributed divergence to their contrasting turnover rates, with rapidly remodelling skin collagen incorporating alterations in environmental, cultural and physiological conditions in the months prior to death. While plausible, the lack of baseline data from individuals with known life histories has hindered evaluation of the explanations presented. Our analysis of a range of animals raised under a variety of management practices showed a population-wide trend for skin collagen to be depleted in 13C by –0.7‰ and enriched in 15N by +1.0‰ relative to bone collagen, even in stillborn animals. These results are intriguing and difficult to explain using current knowledge; however, on the basis of the findings reported here, we caution any results which interpret simply on differing turnover rates. We hypothesize that there may be a consistent difference in the routing of dietary protein and lipids between skin and bone, with potentially on-site synthesis of non-essential amino acids using carbon and nitrogen that have been sourced via different biochemical pathways.
Original languageEnglish
Article number211587
Number of pages11
JournalRoyal Society Open Science
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 12 Jan 2022

Bibliographical note

© 2022 The Authors


  • Isotope analysis
  • diet
  • skin
  • Bone collagen
  • Sheep

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