Julia Lee-Thorp

Prof. Julia Lee-Thorp

Professor of Archaeological Science FBA

Research Laboratory for Archaeology and the History of Art
Dyson Perrins Building, South Parks Rd, Oxford, OX1 3QY

phone: 01865 285213

fax: 01865 285220

email: julia.lee-thorp@rlaha.ox.ac.uk

Research Interests

I am primarily interested in the dietary ecology of hominins in Africa and Eurasia, relying strongly on stable isotope approaches to address questions about dietary ecology, as well as the closely related research themes of climate and vegetation patterning. In more recent archaeological research the topics of most interest to me are in applications of multiple isotope systems to track seasonal mobility and behaviour of wild and domestic animals from their skeletal and organic tissues. 

Associated Research Projects


2014-          NERC CORE panel member, Panel E

2012-          NERC Isotope Geosciences Facility Steering Committee 

2011-2013  NERC Peer Review College

2007-2009  Advisory Board, Historical East African Landscapes Project (PI Lane, York University).

2006-2010  Research Director, Archaeological, Geographical and Environmental Sciences, University of Bradford.

2006-2008  NERC Peer Review College

2007-2010  Review Panel, NRCF - ORADS.

Primary Geographic Areas of Interest

Africa, Europe

Current grants

2015                National Radiocarbon Facility Archaeology Panel, Paired human-textile dating at Pica 8, northern Chile. (CI)

2015                National Radiocarbon Facility Archaeology Panel, The timing of archaeological and environmental shifts at Nelson Bay Cave and Byneskranskop 1, Southern Cape coast, South Africa.

2015                NERC Isotope Geosciences Facilities Steering Committee.  Sea surface temperatures from oxygen isotope ratios in marine molluscs from Late Pleistocene Middle Stone Age sites, South Africa.

2014-2015         National Radiocarbon Facility Archaeology Panel. Timing of environmental shifts at Wonderwerk Cave, Northern Cape, South Africa, and implications for extinction events

2013-2014   British Academy, Coming to Knowth. A strontium isotope approach to Neolithic mobility at a passage tomb cemetery. Schulting (PI), Lee-Thorp (CI).

2012-2013   John Fell OUP Research Fund, Postdoctoral fellowship for Dr Maura Pellegrini (PI).

2011-2012  Boise Research Fund, Dietary ecology of Australopithecus afarensis from stable light isotope analysis of fossils from the Upper Laetoli Beds (PI).

2011-2012  John Fell Research Fund, Exploring strontium isotope distributions in tooth crown sequences of migratory and non-migratory fauna from Laetoli, Tanzania, (PI).

2011-2012  Leakey Foundation, Dietary ecology of Cross River gorillas from stable isotopes (PI).

2011-2012  British Academy, Ranging behaviour of Equus and Cervus from the Late Glacial site of Settecanelle (PI).

2010-2012  Ministerio de Ciencia e Innovation, Spain, Life history strategies in sympatric primates – Co- Investigator.

Current projects

  • The Wonderwerk Project (CI with Chazan, Horwitz et al)
  • Palaeoclimatic and palaeoenvironmental context of the origins of modern humans in coastal South Africa (with Marean et al).
  • The Late Glacial/Holocene transition in Lesotho (with Mitchell)
  • The Palaeodeserts Project, Arabia (with Petraglia et al)
  • Environments and isotopic ecology of the Upper Laetoli Beds: contributions to understanding the ecology of Australopithecus afarensis (with Musiba, Magori)
  • Paleoecology of Central African hominins in Chad (with Brunet,  Likius, Mackaye, Vignaud)
  • Reassessing the chronology, composition and climatic implications of three Neandertal and early modern human sites from France (with Morin)
  • Dietary seasonality and life history strategies in primates (with Macho et al).


Journal Articles & Conference Proceedings


Snoeck C., R Schulting, JA Lee-Thorp, M Lebon, A Zazzo 2016. Impact of heating conditions on the carbon and oxygen isotope composition of calcined bone. J. Archaeol. Sci. 65: 32-43.


Loftus, E., B.A. Stewart, G. Dewar, J.A. Lee-Thorp 2015. Stable isotope evidence of late MIS 3 to middle Holocene palaeoenvironments from Sehonghong Rockshelter, eastern Lesotho. Journal of Quaternary Science, early online view ISSN 0267-8179. DOI: 10.1002/jqs.2817  

Loftus, E., K. Rogers, J.A. Lee-Thorp. 2015. A simple method to establish calcite:aragonite ratios in archaeological mollusc shells. Journal of Quaternary Science 30(8) 731–735.

Lee-Thorp, J.A., M..Ecker. 2015. Holocene environmental change at Wonderwerk Cave, South Africa: Insights from stable light isotopes in ostrich egg shell. African Archaeological Review. Early online view,DOI 10.1007/s10437-015-9202-y

Jeffrey, A., C. Denys, E. Stoetzel, J.A. Lee-Thorp.  2015. Influences on the stable oxygen and carbon isotopes in gerbillid rodent teeth in semi-arid and arid environments: Implications for past climate and environmental reconstruction. Earth and Planetary Science Letters 428: 84-96.

Roberts P., N. Perera, O. Wedage, S.Deraniyagala, J. Perera, S. Eregama, A.Gledhill, M.D. Petraglia, J.A. Lee-Thorp 2015 Direct evidence for human rainforest resource reliance in Late Pleistocene Sri Lanka. Science 347: 1246-1249.

Snoeck C.. J.A Lee-Thorp, R. Schulting, J. deJong, W. Debouge, N. Mattielli 2015 Calcined bone provides a reliable substrate for strontium isotope ratios as shown by an enrichment experiment. Rapid Commun. Mass Spectrom. 29: 107–114

Santana-Sagredo, F., J. A. Lee-Thorp, R. Schulting, M. Uribe 2015. Isotopic Evidence for divergent diets and mobility patterns in the Atacama Desert, Northern Chile, during the Late Intermediate Period (AD 900–1450).  Am. J. Phys. Anthrop. 56:374–387.


Sandberg P.A., M. Sponheimer, J. A Lee-Thorp, D. van Gerven 2014. Intra-tooth stable isotope analysis of dentine: a step toward addressing selective mortality in the reconstruction of life history in the archaeological record. Am. J. Phys. Anthrop. 55:281–293

Le Roux P.J., J.A. Lee-Thorp, S.R. Copeland, M. Sponheimer, D.J. de Ruiter 2014. Strontium isotope analysis of curved tooth enamel surfaces by laser-ablation multi-collector ICP-MS. Palaeogeog. Palaeoclimatol. Palaeoecol. 416:142–149

Snoeck C., Lee-Thorp J.A., Schulting R.J. 2014  From bone to ash: compositional and structural studies of burned bone. Palaeogeog. Palaeoclimatol. Palaeoecol. 416: 55–68.  

Vaiglova, P., C. Snoeck, E. Nitsch, A. Bogaard, J.A. Lee-Thorp.  2014. Impact of contamination and pre-treatment on stable carbon and nitrogen isotope composition of charred plant remains. Rapid Commun. Mass Spectrom. 28: 2497–2510.

Buckberry J., J. Montgomery, J. Towers, G. Muldner, M. Holst, J. Evans, A. Gledhill, N. Neale, J.A. Lee-Thorp 2014.  Finding Vikings in the Danelaw. Oxford Journal of Archaeology 33(4): 413–434

Macho, G.M., J.A. Lee-Thorp 2014. Niche partitioning in sympatric Gorilla and Pan from Cameroon: implications for life history strategies and for reconstructing the evolution of hominin life history. PLoS ONE 9(7): e102794.

Henderson, R., J.A. Lee-Thorp, L. Loe 2014. Early life histories of the London poor using δ¹³C and δ¹⁵N stable isotope incremental dentine sampling Am. J. Phys. Anthrop. 54: 585–593


Sponheimer, M., Z. Alemseged, T. Cerling, F.E. Grine, W.H. Kimbel, M.G. Leakey, J.A Lee-Thorp, F. K. Manthi, K.E. Reed, B. A. Wood 2013. Isotopic evidence of early hominin diets. Proceedings of the National Academy of Science 10 (26): 10513-10518

Roberts, P., J. A. Lee-Thorp, P.J. Mitchell, C. Arthur 2013. Stable carbon isotopic evidence for climate change across the late Pleistocene to early Holocene from Lesotho, southern Africa.  Journal of Quaternary Science 28 (4): 360–3

Beaumont, J., A. Gledhill, J.A. Lee-Thorp, J. Montgomery 2013. Childhood diet: A closer examination of the evidence from dental tissues using stable isotope incremental analysis of human dentine. Archaeometry 55: 277-295

Beaumont, J., J. Geber, N. Powers, A. Wilson, J.A. Lee-Thorp, J. Montgomery 2012. Victims and survivors: Stable isotopes used to identify migrants from the Great Irish Famine to 19th Century London. American Journal of Physical Anthropology 150: 87 – 98

Codron, J., J. A. Lee-Thorp, M. Sponheimer, D. Codron  2013. Plant stable isotope composition across habitat gradients in a semi-arid savanna: implications for environmental reconstruction. Journal of Quaternary Science 28(3): 301–310

Codron, J., K. Kirkman, K.J. Duffy, M. Sponheimer, J.A. Lee-Thorp, A. Ganswindt, M. Clauss, D. Codron 2013. Stable isotope turnover and variability in tail hairs of captive and free-ranging African elephants (Loxodonta africana) reveal dietary niche differences within populations. Can. J. Zool. 91: 124-134.


Lee-Thorp, J.A., A. Likius, T.S. Mackaye, P. Vignaud, M. Sponheimer, M. Brunet 2012. Isotopic evidence for an early shift to C4 resources by Pliocene hominids in Chad, Proceedings of the Nationary Academy of Science 109 (50): 20369-20372

Codron, J., D. Codron, M. Sponheimer, K. Kirkman, K.J. Duffy, E.J. Raubenheimer, J-L. Me'lice, R. Grant, M. Clauss, J.A. Lee-Thorp 2012. Stable isotope series from elephant ivory reveal lifetime histories of a true dietary generalist. Proceedings of the Royal Society B 279: 2433-2441

Grine, F.E., M. Sponheimer, P.S. Ungar, J.A. Lee-Thorp, M.F. Teaford 2012. Dental microwear and stable isotopes inform the palaeoecology of extinct hominins. American Journal of Physical Anthropology 148: 285-317

Sandberg P., B. Passey, J.A. Lee-Thorp, M. Sponheimer, P. Ditchfield, D. van Gerven 2012. Intra-tooth stable isotope analysis of human dental tissues: Laser ablation of enamel and serial sections of dentine collagen in permanent first molars and canines, American Journal of Physical Anthropology 147 (S54): 257


Copeland, S.R., M. Sponheimer, D. de Ruiter, J.A. Lee-Thorp, D. Codron, P.J. le Roux, V. Grimes, M.P. Richards 2011. Strontium isotope evidence for early hominin landscape use. Nature, 474: 76-79.

Lee-Thorp, J.A. 2011. The demise of “Nutcracker man”,  Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 108 (23): 9319-9320.

Mitchell P.J., I. Plug, G.B. Bailey, R. Charles, A. Esterhuysen, J.A. Lee Thorp, A.G. Parker, S. Woodborne 2011.  Fishing at the Place of the Tobacco Plants: a high-resolution open-air record of late Holocene hunter-gatherers from highland Lesotho. Antiquity 85:1225-1242

Mitchell P.J., I. Plug, G.B. Bailey, R. Charles, A. Esterhuysen, J.A. Lee Thorp, A.G. Parker, S. Woodborne 2011. Fishing at the Place of the Tobacco Plants: a high-resolution open-air record of late Holocene hunter-gatherers from highland Lesotho. Antiquity 85:1225–42

Parker, A.G., J.A. Lee-Thorp, P.J.Mitchell 2011. Late Holocene Neoglacial conditions from the Lesotho highlands, southern Africa: phytolith and stable carbon isotope evidence from the archaeological site of Likoaeng. Proceedings of the Geologists’ Association 122: 201–211

Pellegrini, M., J.A. Lee-Thorp, R.E. Donahue 2011. Exploring the variation of the relationship in enamel increments. Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology 310: 71 - 83

Pollard, M.P., M. Pellegrini, J.A. Lee-Thorp 2011. Some observations on the conversion of dental enamel to determine human mobility. American Journal of Physical Anthropology 145: 499-504


Bell, L.S., J.A. Lee-Thorp, A. Elkerton 2010. Sailing against the wind. Reply to Millard and Schroeder: ‘True British sailors’: A comment on the origin of the men of the Mary Rose. Journal of Archaeological Science 37:683-686

Codron, J., D. Codron, J.A. Lee-Thorp, M. Sponheimer, K. Kirkman, K.J. Duffy, J.C. Sealy 2010.  Landscape-scale feeding patterns of African elephant inferred from carbon isotope analysis of feces. Oecologia 165: 89-99

Copeland, S.R., M. Sponheimer, J.A. Lee-Thorp, D.J. de Ruiter, P.J. le Roux, V. Grimes, D. Codron, J. Codron, L.R. Berger, M.P. Richards 2010. Using strontium isotopes to study site accumulation processes. Journal of Taphonomy 8 (2-3): 115-127

Copeland, S.R., M. Sponheimer, J.A. Lee-Thorp, P.J. le Roux, D.J. de Ruiter, M.P. Richards 2010. Strontium isotope ratios in fossil teeth from South Africa: assessing laser ablation MC-ICP-MS analysis and the extent of diagenesis, Journal of Archaeological Science 37: 1437–1446

De Ruiter, D.J., S.R. Copeland, J.A. Lee-Thorp, M. Sponheimer 2010. Investigating the Role of Eagles as Accumulating Agents in the Dolomitic Cave Infills of South Africa. Journal of Taphonomy 8 (1-2): 129-154

Lee-Thorp, J.A., M. Sponheimer, B.H. Passey, D. De Ruiter, T.E. Cerling 2010. Stable isotopes in fossil hominin tooth enamel suggest a fundamental dietary shift in the Pliocene. Phil. Trans. Royal Soc. B  365: 3389-3396

Smith, J.M., J.A. Lee-Thorp, S. Prevec, S. Hall, A. Späth. 2010. Pre-Colonial Herding Strategies in the Shashe-Limpopo Basin, southern Africa, based on strontium isotope analysis of domestic fauna. Journal of African Archaeology 8: 83-98


Codron, D., J. Codron, J.A. Lee-Thorp, M. Sponheimer, C.C. Grant, J.S. Brink 2009. Stable isotope evidence for nutritional stress, competition, and loss of functional habitat as factors limiting recovery of rare antelope in southern Africa. Journal of Arid Environments 73: 449-457

Holzkämper, S., K. Holmgren, J.A. Lee-Thorp, S. Talma, A. Mangini, T.C. Partridge,  2009. Late Pleistocene Stalagmite Growth in Wolkberg Cave, South Africa. Earth and Planetary Science Letters 282: 212-221

Ségalen, L., J.A. Lee-Thorp 2009.  Palaeoecology of late Early Miocene fauna in the Namib based on 13C/12C and 18O/16O ratios of tooth enamel and ratite eggshell carbonate. Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology 277: 191–198

Sponheimer, M., D. Codron, B.H. Passey, D.J. de Ruiter, T.E. Cerling, J.A. Lee-Thorp 2009. Using carbon isotopes to track dietary change in modern, historical, and ancient primates. American Journal of Physical Anthropology 140: 661–670


Lee-Thorp, J.A. 2008. On isotopes and old bones, Archaeometry 50: 925–950

Bell, L.S., J.A. Lee-Thorp, A. Elkerton 2008. The sinking of the Mary Rose warship: a medieval mystery solved? Journal of Archaeological Science 36: 166-173

Codron, D., J.S. Brink, L. Rossouw, M. Clauss, J. Codron, J.A. Lee-Thorp, M. Sponheimer 2008. Functional differentiation of African grazing ruminants: an example of specialized adaptations to very small changes in diet. Biological Journal of the Linnaean Society 94: 755–764

Codron, D., J.A. Lee-Thorp, M. Sponheimer, D. de Ruiter, J. Codron 2008. What insights can baboon feeding ecology provide for early hominin niche differentiation? International Journal of Primatology 29: 757–772

Copeland S., M. Sponheimer, P.J. le Roux, V. Grimes, J.A. Lee-Thorp, D.J. de Ruiter, M.P. Richards 2008. Strontium isotope ratios (87Sr/86Sr) of tooth enamel: a comparison of solution and laser ablation multicollector inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry methods. Rapid Communications in Mass Spectrometry 22: 3187-3194

Copeland, S.R., M. Sponheimer, C.A. Spinage, J.A. Lee-Thorp 2008. Bulk and intra-tooth enamel stable isotopes of waterbuck Kobus ellipsiprymnus from Queen Elizabeth National Park, Uganda. African Journal of Ecology 46: 697–701

de Ruiter, D.J., M. Sponheimer, J.A. Lee-Thorp 2008. Indications of habitat association of Australopithecus robustus in the Bloubank Valley, South Africa, Journal of Human Evolution 55: 1015–1030

Fourie, N. H., J. A. Lee-Thorp, R.R. Ackermann 2008. Biogeochemical and craniometric investigation of dietary ecology, niche separation, and taxonomy of Plio-Pleistocene Cercopithecoids from the Makapansgat Limeworks. American Journal of Physical Anthropology 135: 121–135

Pellegrini, M., R.E. Donahue, C. Chenery, J. Evans, J.A. Lee-Thorp, J. Montgomery, M. Mussi 2008. Faunal migration in late-glacial central Italy: implications for human resource exploitation. Rapid Communications in Mass Spectrometry 22:1714–1726

Ségalen, L., M. de Rafélis, J.A. Lee-Thorp, A-F. Maurer, M. Renard 2008. Cathodoluminescence tools provide clues to depositional history in Miocene and Pliocene mammalian teeth. Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology 266: 246-253

Edited volumes, contributions to edited volumes


Ecker, M., J. Botha-Brink, J. A. Lee-Thorp, L.K. Horwitz 2015.Ostrich eggshell as a source of palaeoenvironmental information for the arid interior of South Africa. In Juergen Runge (ed.) Changing Climates, Ecosystems and Environments within Arid Southern Africa and Adjoining Regions: Palaeoecology of Africa 33.

Lee-Thorp J.A., M. Sponheimer 2015. Contribution of Stable Light Isotopes to Palaeoenvironmental Reconstruction.In W. Henke, I. Tattersall(Eds.) Handbook of Palaeoanthropology 2nd Edition, Springer, Berlin.

Sponheimer M., J.A. Lee-Thorp 2015. Hominin palaeodiets: contribution of stable isotopes. In W. Henke, I. Tattersall(Eds.) Handbook of Palaeoanthropology 2nd Edition, Springer, Berlin.


Sponheimer, M., J.A. Lee-Thorp, K. Reed, P. Ungar (Editors) 2013. Early Hominin Ecology University of Colorado Press, Boulder, pp. 1-470.

Lee-Thorp J.A., M. Sponheimer 2013. Hominin ecology from hard tissue biogeochemistry. In Sponheimer, M., J.A. Lee-Thorp, K. Reed, P. Ungar (Editors) Early Hominin Ecology, University of Colorado Press, Boulder, pp. 281-324.

Sponheimer M., J.A. Lee-Thorp, D. Codron 2013. A brief update on developments in early hominin biogeochemistry. In Armitage, R., et al (Ed.s) In Archaeological Chemistry VIII, ACS Symposium Series, American Chemical Society: Washington, DC. doi: 10.1021/bk-2013-1147.

De Ruiter, D.J., M. Sponheimer, J.A. Lee-Thorp 2012.  Animal palaeocommunity variability and habitat preference of the robust australopiths in South Africa.InS.C. Reynolds, A. Gallagher(Ed.s) African Genesis: Perspectives on Hominin Evolution.  Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp. 449-470.


Sponheimer, M. and Lee-Thorp, J.A. 2009. Biogeochemical evidence for the environments of early Homo in South Africa: in FE Grine et al. (Ed.s) The First Humans: Origin and Early Evolution of the Genus Homo. Vertebrate Paleobiology and Paleoanthropology, Springer Science pp 185-194.


School of Archaeology > People > Academic Staff > RLAHA : Julia Lee Thorp