High resolution LA-ICP-MS mapping of U and Th isotopes in an early Pleistocene equid tooth from Fuente Nueva-3 (Orce, Andalusia, Spain)
We have produced detailed maps of U and Th isotopes for three cross-sections of an Early Pleistocene equid tooth from the archaeological site of Fuente Nueva-3 (Orce, Andalusia, Spain). This permits us to visualise, for the first time, U migration processes in 3 dimensions. The tooth shows a concentration gradient from the top to the base, indicating the U profile had not equilibrated after >1 Ma. The spatial pattern of 230Th/234U and 234U/238U indicates complex U-mobilisation processes over the last 100 ka, dominated by small-scale redistribution of U. Leaching from the tooth through the pulp cavity started at least 93 ka ago with several later phases in various domains of the dentine and cement. This leaching event could have been triggered by changes in the local hydrological regime associated with periods of increased erosion in the Guadix-Baza basin. The results illustrate the difficulty of dating faunal material from Early Pleistocene sites. They also demonstrate that dental tissues can neither be considered as homogeneous media for U-diffusion, nor behave as closed systems for U-series isotopes because diagenetic alterations seem to trigger U-migration. The results do not support the notion that U-uptake into dental tissues is necessarily of short duration. Nevertheless, rapid laser ablation scanning can be used to identify suitable samples for dating as well as domains within the teeth that may have preserved original isotopic signatures, i.e. domains that have not been affected by recent U-mobilisation process.