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Department of Archaeology



  • 2016-2020: ERC Post-Doctoral Research Associate, TwoRains project
  • 2014-2017: ERC Post-Doctoral Research Associate, FOGLIP project
  • 2010–2014: Adrian Research Fellowship, Darwin College
  • 2006–2009: PhD Archaeological Science, Department of Archaeology & Trinity College, University of Cambridge
  • 2004–2005: MSc in Archaeological Science, Research Laboratory for Archaeology and the History of Art, University of Oxford (Distinction)
  • 2001–2004: BA (Hons) Archaeology and Anthropology, University of Oxford (First Class)



My research focuses on the application of scientific techniques to archaeological questions. I specialise in carbon, nitrogen, oxygen and strontium isotope analysis of archaeological material in order to better understand the past. I am particularly interested in:

  • Past human and animal diets
  • The social causes of dietary variation
  • The role that migration played in past life-histories, populations and societies
  • The relationships between diet, migration and health
  • Reconstructing climate around archaeological sites to explore the effect of climate on past human societies and subsistence practices
  • Developing isotopic techniques to improve our methodologies

Current and Previous Research Projects

My current research uses stable isotope analysis to ask if climate change really causes collapse as part of the TwoRains project, which is investigating the resilience and sustainability of South Asia’s first complex society, the Indus Civilisation (c.2500-1900 BC). I am using carbon, nitrogen, oxygen and strontium isotope analysis of animal bones and teeth, and plant material to ask a range of questions considering climate change, water stress, food production and food consumption. As part of this project I have grown millet and barley plants in order to better understand the causes of isotopic variation in archaeological samples.

I am also continuing my work using stable oxygen isotope analysis to reconstruct the climatic background to the spread of agriculture through the crucial cross roads of Central Asia. This is part of the Food Globalisation in Prehistory (FOGLIP) project which investigates the globalisation of agriculture in the Neolithic and Bronze Age. As part of this project, I have published papers about: the isotopic evidence for millet consumption across Eurasia in prehistory (published in World Archaeology); the isotopic evidence for dietary diversity in pastoral societies in central Kazakhstan (published in Archaeometry); and the amount of isotopic variation in millet (Setaria italica) varieties grown under uniform conditions (published in RCMS).

My research also invovles variety of smaller isotopic projects investigating human and animal diet and migration in sites in Croatia, Mauritius, Gibraltar, Slovenia, Malta and Italy.

My PhD investigated the relationships between diet, migration and health in Iron Age, Roman and Early Mediaeval coastal Croatia. This showed that the Roman and Early Mediaeval migrations caused fundamental changes in the subsistence practices of the people living in the region (published in AJPA). Furthermore, I showed that the application of oxygen stable isotope analysis to human samples requires further consideration before the technique can be easily applied (published in AJPA). Building from research started at this time, I later completed a meta-analysis of published human oxygen isotope data, considering best to apply this technique in order to identify migrants in the archaeological record (published in PLoS ONE).

Research Grants

  • 2015: AHRC Research Grant: 'Literary Archaeology': Exploring the Lived Environment of the Slave (Co-I: £79207)
  • 2013: DM McDonald Fund: 'Carbon Isotopic Variation within an Individual: An Examination of Tissue Spacing in Ovis Aries' (£5040)
  • 2011: DM McDonald Fund: 'Climate, Crops and Contacts: The Influence of Climate upon the Cross-Continental Spread of Agriculture' (£4750)
  • 2008: NRCF grant NF/2008/2/4 for radiocarbon dates: 'Diet in Early Mediaeval Croatia: Chronological Change or Population Diversity?' (£2760)
  • 2006–2009: AHRC PhD studentship (Fees and stipend)
  • 2006–2009: NERC PhD studentship (Fees and stipend - declined)
  • 2004–2005: Edward Hall Memorial Fund, RLAHA (MSc University fees)
  • 2004–2005: Rhys-David Scholarship, St Hugh's College, Oxford (MSc College fees)




Key publications: 

Peer-reviewed publications:

Lightfoot E, Ustunkaya MC, Przelomska N, O'Connell TC, Hunt HV, Jones MK and Petrie CA (available online): Carbon and nitrogen isotopic variability in foxtail millet (Setaria italica) with watering regime Rapid Communications in Mass Spectrometry

Motuzaite Matuzeviciute G, Lightfoot E, Liu X, Jacob J, Outram A, Zaibert V, Zakharov S and Jones MK (available online): Archaeobotanical investigations at the earliest horse herder site of Botai in Kazakhstan Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences

Gill J, McKenzie C and Lightfoot E 2019: ‘Handle with care’: Literature, Archaeology, Slavery Interdisciplinary Science Reviews 44: 21-37

Lightfoot E, Liu X and Jones PJ 2018: A World of C4 Pathways: On the Use of δ13C Values to Identify the Consumption of C4 Plants in the Archaeological Record. In: Lightfoot E, Fuller DQ and Liu X (eds): Far from the Hearth: Essays in Honour of Martin K Jones (Cambridge: McDonald Institute Monographs)

Singh RN, Petrie CA, Alam A, Bates J, Ceccarelli A, Chakraborty S, Chakradhari S, Chowdhary A, Dixit Y, French CAI, Gieshe A, Green AS, Green LM, Jones PJ, Lightfoot E, Pandey AK, Pawar V, Ranjan A, Redhouse DI, Singh DP, Suryanarayan A, Ustunkaya MC and Walker JR 2018: Living in the hinterland: survey and excavations at Lohari Ragho 2015‐2017 Puratattva

Vidal-Ronchas R, Rajić Šikanjić P, Premužić Z, Rapan Papeša A and Lightfoot E 2019: Diet, sex, and social status in the Late Avar period: stable isotope investigations at Nuštar cemetery, Croatia Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences 11: 1727-1737

Gonzalez-Fortes G, Jones ER, Lightfoot E, Bonsall C, Lazar C, Grandal-d’Anglade A, Garralda MD, Drak L and Siska V 2017: Paleogenomic Evidence for Multi-generational Mixing between Neolithic Farmers and Mesolithic Hunter-Gatherers in the Lower Danube Basin Current Biology 27: 1801-1810

Jones ER, Zarina G, Moiseyev V, Lightfoot E, Nigst PR, Manica A, Pinhasi R and Bradley DG 2017: The Neolithic Transition in the Baltic Was Not Driven by Admixture with Early European Farmers Current Biology 27: 1-17

Lightfoot E, Przelomska N, Craven M, O’Connell TC, He L, Hunt HV and Jones MK 2016: Intraspecific carbon and nitrogen isotopic variability in foxtail millet (Setaria italica) Rapid Communications in Mass Spectrometry 30: 1475-1487

Lightfoot E, Naum M, Kadakas V and Russow E 2016: The influence of social status and ethnicity on diet in Mediaeval Tallinn as seen through stable isotope analysis Estonian Journal of Archaeology 20: 81-107

Lightfoot E and O’Connell TC 2016: On the use of biomineral oxygen isotope data to identify human migrants in the archaeological record: Sample variation, statistical methods and geographical considerations PLoS ONE 11(4): e0153850

Liu X, Reid R, Lightfoot E, Motuzaite Matuzeviciute G and Jones MK 2016: Radical change and dietary conservatism: Mixing model estimates of human diets along the Inner Asia and China’s Mountain Corridors The Holocene 26: 1556-1565

Jones MK, Hunt HV, Kneale CJ, Lightfoot E, Lister D, Liu X and Motuzaite-Matuzeviciute G 2016: Food Globalization in Prehistory: The agrarian foundations of an interconnected continent Journal of the British Academy 4: 73-87

Santana J, Fregel R, Lightfoot E, Morales J, Alamón M, Guillén J, Moreno M, Rodríguez A 2016: The early colonial Atlantic world: New insights on the African Diaspora from isotopic and ancient DNA analyses of a multi-ethnic 15th–17th century slave burial population from the Canary Islands, Spain American Journal of Physical Anthropology 159: 300-312

Lightfoot E, Šlaus M, Rajić Šikanjić P, and O’Connell TC 2015: Metals and millets: Bronze and Iron Age diet in inland and coastal Croatia seen through stable isotope analysis Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences 7(3): 375-386

Lightfoot E, Motuzaite-Matuzeviciute G, O’Connell TC, Kukushkin IA, Loman V, Varfolomeev V, Liu X and Jones MK 2015: How ‘pastoral’ is pastoralism? Dietary diversity in Bronze Age communities in the Central Kazakhstan steppes Archaeometry 57(S1): 232-249

Motuzaite-Matuzeviciute G, Lightfoot E, O’Connell TC, Voyakin D, Liu X, Svyatko S, Usmanova E and Jones MK 2015: The extent of cereal cultivation among pastoralist societies in Kazakhstan using stable isotope analysis of animal bone Journal of Archaeological Science 59: 23-34

Ma MM, Dong GH, Liu X, Lightfoot E, Chen F, Wang H, Li H and Jones MK 2015: Stable isotope analysis of human and animal remains at the Qijiaping site in Middle Gansu, China International Journal of Osteoarchaeology 25: 923-934

Lightfoot E, Šlaus M and O’Connell TC 2014: Water consumption in Iron Age, Roman and Early Medieval Croatia American Journal of Physical Anthropology 154(4): 535-543

Liu X, Lightfoot E, O’Connell TC, Wang H, Li S, Zhou L, Yaowu H, Motuzaite-Matuzeviciute G and Jones MK 2014: From necessity to choice: Dietary revolutions in west China in the second millennium BC World Archaeology 46(5): 661-680

Ma MM, Dong GH, Lightfoot E, Wang H, Liu X, Jia X, Zhang KR and Chen FH 2014: Stable isotope analysis of human and faunal remains in the Western Loess Plateau, Approximately 2000 cal BC Archaeometry Suppl. 1: 237-255

Lightfoot E, Liu X and Jones MK 2013: Why move starchy cereals? A review of the isotopic evidence for prehistoric millet consumption across Eurasia World Archaeology 45(4): 574-623

Stevens RE, Lightfoot E, Hamilton J, Cunliffe B and Hedges REM 2013: Investigating dietary variation with burial ritual in Iron Age Hampshire: An isotopic comparison of Suddern Farm Cemetery and Danebury hillfort pit burials Oxford Journal of Archaeology 32(3): 257-273

Stevens RE, Lightfoot E, Hamilton J, Allen T and Hedges REM 2013: One for the master and one for the dame: Stable isotope investigations of Iron Age animal husbandry in the Danebury Environs Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences 5: 95-109

Lightfoot E, Šlaus M and O’Connell TC 2012: Changing cultures, changing cuisines: Cultural transitions and dietary change in Iron Age, Roman and Early Mediaeval Croatia American Journal of Physical Anthropology 148(4): 543-556

Stevens RE, Lightfoot E, Allen T and Hedges REM 2012: Palaeodiet at Eton College Rowing Course, Buckinghamshire: Isotopic changes in human diet in the Neolithic, Bronze Age, Iron Age and Roman periods throughout the British Isles Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences 4(3): 167-184

Lightfoot E and Stevens RE 2012: Stable isotope investigations of charred barley (Hordeum vulgare) and wheat (Triticum spelta) grains from Danebury Hillfort: Implications for palaeodietary reconstructions Journal of Archaeological Science 39(3): 656-662

Jones MK, Hunt H, Lightfoot E, Lister D, Liu X and Motuzaite-Matuzeviciute G 2011: Food globalisation in prehistory World Archaeology 43(4): 665-675

Lightfoot E, Boneva B, Miracle PT, Šlaus M and O’Connell TC 2011: Exploring the Mesolithic and Neolithic transition in the Adriatic through isotopic investigations Antiquity 85(327): 73-86

Lightfoot E, Miracle PT, Radić D, Šlaus M and O’Connell TC 2010: Stable isotope analysis of human diets during the Mesolithic and Neolithic periods at Vela Spila Cave, Korčula Izdanja HADa 26: 19-25

Stevens RE, Lightfoot E, Hamilton J, Cunliffe B and Hedges REM 2010: Stable isotope investigations of the Danebury hillfort pit burials Oxford Journal of Archaeology 29(4): 407-428

Lightfoot E, O’Connell TC, Stevens RE, Hamilton J, Hey G and Hedges REM 2009: An investigation into diet at the site of Yarnton, Oxfordshire, using stable carbon and nitrogen isotopes Oxford Journal of Archaeology 28(3): 301-322

Publications as editor:

Lightfoot E, Fuller DQ and Liu X (eds): Far from the Hearth: Essays in Honour of Martin K Jones (Cambridge: McDonald Institute Monographs)

Mannino M, Lightfoot E and Stevens RE (eds) 2016: Novel isotopic approaches to human palaeoecology Special Issue of Environmental Archaeology 21(3)

Lightfoot E (ed.) 2008: Movement, Mobility and Migration Archaeological Review from Cambridge 23(2)

Accepted Publications:

Singh RN, Petrie CA, Alam A, Bates J, Ceccarelli A, Chakradhari S, Chowdhary A, Green AS, Lightfoot E, Pandey AK, Ranjan A, Redhouse DI, Singh DP, Singh U, Ustunkaya MC and Walker JR (in press): Living in the hinterland II: survey and excavations at Masudpur 2018 Puratattva

Trentacoste A, Lightfoot E, le Roux P, Buckley M, Kansa SW, Esposito C and Gleba M (in press): Heading for the hills? A multi-isotope study of sheep management in first millennium BC Italy Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports

Other publications: 

Lightfoot E, Ballentyne RM and O’Connell TC 2019: Carbon and nitrogen stable isotope analysis of plant and faunal remains from Must Farm, Peterborough. Technical Report submitted to the Cambridge Archaeological Unit

Lightfoot E 2019: Oxygen and Carbon Stable Isotope Analysis of the Human Remains from Knobbs Farm, Somersham, Cambridgeshire. Technical Report submitted to the Cambridge Archaeological Unit

Liu X, Lightfoot E and Fuller DQ: Introduction: Far from the Hearth. In: Lightfoot E, Fuller DQ and Liu X (eds) 2018: Far from the Hearth: Essays in Honour of Martin K Jones (Cambridge: McDonald Institute Monographs)

Ballantyne RM, Macheridis S, Lightfoot E and Williams A 2017: Chapter 19: Biological remains at Avaldsnes. In: Skre D (ed.) Avaldsnes (Reallexikon der Germanischen Altertumskunde, Ergänzungsbände) Berlin: De Gruyter

Lightfoot E, Purcell R and O’Connell TC 2017: Carbon and nitrogen stable isotope analysis of the human remains from RAF Lakenheath. Technical report submitted to Suffolk Archaeology

Mannino M, Lightfoot E and Stevens RE 2016: Novel isotopic approaches to investigating human palaeoecology: An introduction Environmental Archaeology 21(3): 193-198

Lightfoot E 2012: Review of Brown, T.A. and Brown, K. Biomolecular Archaeology: An Introduction Archaeological Review from Cambridge 27(2): 29-234

Seetah K, Balbo A, Calaon D, Čaval S, Farr H, Pluskowski A, Appleby J, Durand C, Lightfoot E, Morales J and Moreno Escobar M 2011: The Mauritian Archaeology and Cultural Heritage Project: Exploring the impact of colonialism and colonisation in the Indian Ocean Antiquity Project Gallery 85(330)

Lightfoot E 2008: Introduction. In: Lightfoot, E. (ed.) Movement, Mobility and Migration Archaeological Review from Cambridge 23(2): 1-7

Teaching and Supervisions

Research supervision: 

I supervise Undergraduate and Masters students on a range of topics covering archaeological and methodological applications of isotopic analyses, including stable carbon, nitrogen and oxygen isotope analysis of bone and dentine collagen, tooth enamel and plant remains.

Job Titles

Research Associate, McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research

General Info

Available for consultancy
Research Expertise / Fields of study: 
Human Palaeoecology
Biomolecular Archaeology


Archaeological Science
Science, Technology and Innovation
Environment, Landscapes and Settlement
Rethinking Complexity
Geographical areas: 
Central Asia
East Asia
Mesopotamia and the Near East
South Asia
Periods of interest: 
Classical - Roman
Copper/Bronze Age
Iron Age