Oxford Archaeological Lead Isotope Database


The VG-38-54-30 Double Focussing Multicollector Mass Spectrometer in the Isotrace Laboratory and an oxhide ingot from the Uluburun shipwreck photographed outside the INA conservation laboratory in the Bodrum Castle, Turkey.

About the Isotrace Laboratory

The OXALID database is the result of the pioneering research into the methodology and application of lead isotope provenance studies carried out at the University of Oxford between 1975-2002, at first in the Department of Geology (Geological Age and Isotope Research Laboratory) and later in the Isotrace Laboratory based in the Department of Nuclear Physics, and eventually from 1995 part of the Research Laboratory of Archaeology and the History of Art.  These 27 years of intensive work, in collaboration with numerous institutions and individuals, funded initially by the Stiftung Volkswagenwerk, and later from numerous UK Government and Charitable funds and finally by the Institute of Aegean Prehistory (INSTAP), laid the foundations of the lead isotope provenance methodology and resulted in a large database of analytical isotope and elemental analyses.  

Systematic studies and applications of lead isotope provenancing began in 1975 when a group at the Max-Planck-Institut für Kernphysik in Heidelberg, comprising W. Gentner, G. A. Wagner and O. Müller, invited N.H. Gale at the University of Oxford to join them in collaborative work.  This resulted in several years of close collaboration in the laboratory and in the field between Oxford and Heidelberg, financed by grants from the Stiftung Volkswagenwerk and focused on studies of the provenance of the silver used to make ancient Greek silver coins using both trace element and lead isotope analysis. A new and central feature of this collaboration was the emphasis, beyond the analytical work, on extensive fieldwork on lead–silver deposits in and around the Aegean, involving geological and mining archaeological field work, as well as mineralogical studies of ores and metallurgical remains. This research was further extended at Oxford from 1979 (following the suggestion of C. Renfrew) into all Bronze Age metal sources in the Mediterranean and beyond. The main focus of research was to discover the metal sources used in the eastern Mediterranean (Greece, Cyprus, the Near East) from 3000-1000 BC, but other projects included studies of the origin of European metals and pigments (UK, Bulgaria, Italy, Spain, France, Germany, Sweden, Norway), Roman period metals (UK and Poland), sources of silver and lead for dynastic Egypt, Near Eastern Hacksilber, glazed Islamic pottery, and other materials from a wide range of periods and places. 

 Zofia Stos-Gale

 Noel Gale

Research funding for lead isotope research in Oxford:

1975-2002: The University of Oxford

1975-1978:  Department of Geology, Stiftung Volkswagenwerk (Germany)

1979-1982:  Ashmolean Museum, UK Science and Engineering Research Council (SERC), (UK)

1982-1985:   Department of Geology, UK Science and Engineering Research Council (SERC) (UK)

1985-1988:  Department of Earth Sciences, Leverhulme Trust (UK)

1988-1993:  Department of Earth Sciences, British Academy (UK)

1988-1994:  Department of Nuclear Physics, SERC Committee for Science Based Archaeology GR/G49265: "New archaeological applications of isotope geochemistry."  This grant, with additional funds from the former University Grants Committee, allowed the establishment of the Isotrace Laboratory, with a new mass spectrometer and extensive Class 100 ultraclean laboratories. (UK)

1994-1997: Department of Nuclear Physics, UK Natural Environment Research Council, continuation of grant GR/G49265 (UK)

1997-1999:  Department of Earth Sciences, Leverhulme Trust (UK)

1995-2001:  Research Laboratory for Archaeology and the History of Art, INSTAP - Institute of Aegean Prehistory, New York and Philadelphia (USA).

 Members of the Isotrace Laboratory:

Founders and Directors: Professor Noël H. Gale and Dr. Zofia Anna Stos-Gale


Judy Houghton working in one of the Isotrace Laboratory clean rooms.

 Research and technical staff: Dr. Valerie Chamberlain,    Dr. Colin Macdonald, Dr. T. C.  Liew, Dr. Robin Clayton, Dr. Andrew Shortland, Dr. Brenda Rohl, Judy Houghton (Roberts), Melanie Jones, Nick Annetts, Bob Speakman, Neil Boulton.

The names and institutions without whom the research in the Isotrace Laboratory would not be possible are listed on the relevant pages of the database.

Additional information

Gale NH, Stos-Gale ZA 2000. ‘Lead isotope analyses applied to provenance studies’. In: Ciliberto E, Spoto G (eds) Modern Analytical Methods in Art and Archaeology. Wiley, New York, pp. 503584

Zofia Anna Stos-Gale & Noël H. Gale, 2009. ‘Metal provenancing using isotopes and the Oxford archaeological lead isotope database (OXALID)’. Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences, Volume 1, Number 3, p. 195-213