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Shell oxygen isotope values and sclerochronology of the limpet Patella vulgata Linnaeus 1758 from northern Iberia: implications for the reconstruction of past seawater temperatures

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  • Igor Gutiérrez-Zugasti
  • Roberto Suárez-Revilla
  • Leon J. Clarke
  • Bernd R. Schöne
  • Geoff Bailey
  • Manuel González Morales


Publication details

JournalPalaeogeography palaeoclimatology palaeoecology
DateAccepted/In press - 20 Mar 2017
DateE-pub ahead of print - 21 Mar 2017
DatePublished (current) - Jun 2017
Number of pages14
Pages (from-to)162-175
Early online date21/03/17
Original languageEnglish


Understanding environmental conditions faced by hunter-fisher-gatherers during the Pleistocene and Holocene, and interpretation of subsistence strategies, social organisation and settlement patterns, are key topics for the study of past human societies. In this respect, oxygen isotope values (18O) of mollusc shell calcium carbonate can provide important information on palaeoclimate and the seasonality of shell collection at archaeological sites. In this paper, we tested P. vulgata shells from northern Iberia as a paleoclimate archive through the study of shell oxygen isotope values and sclerochronology of modern samples. Results showed that limpets formed their shells close to isotopic equilibrium, with an average offset between measured and predicted values of 0.36 ‰. This offset is significantly reduced with respect to those reported in previous studies, probably due to the use of highly resolved data on the isotopic composition of the water when calculating predicted values. Despite large intra-specific variability, shell growth patterns of P. vulgata revealed a common pattern of higher growth in spring and a growth cessation/slowdown in summer and winter. The seasonal growth cessation/slowdown did not exceed three months. Therefore, a correct interpretation of the season of shell collection is still possible. Reconstructed seawater temperature exhibited a high correlation with instrumental temperature (R2 = 0.68 to 0.93; p < 0.0001). Despite periods of growth cessation/slowdown, mean seawater temperatures and annual ranges were reconstructed accurately. As demonstrated here, seawater temperature can be reconstructed with a maximum uncertainty of ± 2.7 °C. Therefore, our study shows that oxygen isotope values from P. vulgata can be used for the reconstruction of paleoclimate and the season of shell collection.

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© 2017 Elsevier B.V. This is an author-produced version of the published paper. Uploaded in accordance with the publisher’s self-archiving policy.

    Research areas

  • Palaeoclimate, Seasonality, Geochemistry, Shells, Growth patterns

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