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Stable Light Isotope Laboratory

Note: the Stable Light Isotope Lab has a new website! Click HERE, or follow this link:


Stable Light Isotopes are an essential reserarch tool in the Archaeological Sciences, Earth Sciences, Oceanography, and Ecology. The Stable Light Isotope Laboratory, one of only a few on the African continent, provides state-of-the-art and routine stable light isotope analyses for the University community and users from the South African research community, and abroad. Our laboratory is located within the Archaeology Department. Our equipment includes two light isotope ratio mass spectrometers (IRMS), including a Delta Plus XP and a Delta V interfaced with elemental analysers and high temperature combustion devices. 

We are equipped to handle gases, (CO2, N2, H2 and O2) from organic, silicate, carbonate and air/breath samples. We also have a high-throughput GasBench II for precision stable carbon and oxygen isotope analyses of small quantities of carbonates. The laboratory is equipped with general-purpose vacuum distillation lines for routine gas preparation, as well as a full complement of microbalances, centrifuges, and freeze-dryers. Further preparation facilities are located in the Stable Isotope Laboratory of the Department of Geological Sciences, right across University avenue.



Fields of research range widely from palaeo-dietary and palaeo-ecological reconstructions, lithogenesis, hydrology, botany, zoology, ecology, wildlife management as well as medical and sport science applications. Typical projects involving stable isotopes and researchers from the Department of Archaeology might include:

  • Studies of palaeo-ecology through isotopic analyses of fossil biominerals (teeth, bones) from archaeological and palaeotological sites.
  • Diets of prehistoric hunter-gatherers on the Southern African coast, or diets of Iron Age peoples
  • Palaeoclimate studies, for instance, analysis of oxygen isotope ratios in mid-Holocene shells from the western Cape coast, to investigate possible mid-Holocene warming of sea surface temperatures.
  • Diets and life histories of early colonial people, including slaves.


We have opportunities for Masters and PhD students, technicians, and for post-doctoral researchers with related interests. Please contact Prof Judith Sealy, Dr Vincent Hare or Dr Julie Luyt to find out more!

Archaeology Dept, Beattie Building, rooms 3.23 and 3.24, Upper Campus

Instruments and facilities are maintained by our Chief Scientific Officer, Dr Julie Luyt. Please email her to enquire about samples and analyses, or ideas for projects.

Staff affiliated with the laboratory: Prof Judith Sealy (SARChI Chair in Stable Isotopes, Archaeology and Palaeoenvironmental Studies) holds overall responsibility for the laboratory. Other affiliated staff include Dr Vincent Hare, and Prof Chris Harris.