A stable relationship: isotopes and bioarchaeology are in it for the long haul

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Given their ubiquity in dietary reconstruction, it is fitting that the story of isotopes began with a conversation over dinner. Although coined in scientific literature by Frederick Soddy (1913), the word ‘isotope’ was first conceived by Margaret Todd, a medical doctor (also known as the novelist ‘Graham Travers’, and an all-round gender-stereotype-smasher of their age). In 1912, Soddy and Todd were attending a supper in Glasgow. When talk turned to work, Soddy described the then nameless concept of elements of different masses that occupy the same place in the periodic table. Todd suggested the term ‘isotope’, from the Greek isos (‘same’) + topos (‘place’), and the name stuck (Nicol 1957; Nagel 1982).
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)853–864
Number of pages17
Issue number358
Early online date2 Aug 2017
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2017

Bibliographical note

I am grateful for the invitation to contribute this piece and for comments on earlier versions, especially from two anonymous reviewers. Thanks are due also to Gundula Müldner, Mike Richards, Michelle Alexander, Jennifer Jones, Joshua Wright and Orsolya Czére. Finally, I should like to acknowledge the isotope archaeology community in the UK and elsewhere, who make for lively conferences and an exciting and inclusive field.


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