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Crop water status from plant stable carbon isotope values: A test case for monsoonal climates


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Jones, PJ ORCID: 0000-0002-4880-6711, O'Connell, TC, Jones, MK, Singh, RN and Petrie, CA 2021 , 'Crop water status from plant stable carbon isotope values: A test case for monsoonal climates' , The Holocene , pp. 1-12 , doi: 10.1177/0959683621994649.

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Stable carbon isotope analysis is increasingly used in archaeology as an indicator of crop water status and/or water management regime. While thetechnique shows promise, robust modern baseline studies are required to inform and validate archaeological interpretations. Here, we test stable carbonisotope values as a crop water status proxy in a monsoonal climatic context for the first time. Specifically, we test the relationship between grain stablecarbon isotope values (δ13Cgrain), water availability, irrigation and soil type in barley (Hordeum vulgare L. (Zohary and Hopf.)) in north-west India, with theaim of deriving a locally-appropriate model for isotopic interpretation. We test this relationship across a substantial rainfall gradient (200–1000mm/year)and find a negative logarithmic relationship between climatic water availability and δ13C. However, there is significant noise in the relationship, and wereport δ13Cgrain variation of over 3‰ amongst samples drawn from similar climatic contexts. Soil type, irrigation type and irrigation frequency have noclear modifying effects. We conclude that: (1) barley stable carbon isotope values can act as an archaeological water status proxy in monsoonal areas, butwill be most sensitive in areas receiving <450mm rainfall per year; and (2) it is not possible to precisely infer water management regimes. On the basis ofour results, we propose guidelines for archaeological barley stable carbon isotope interpretation in north-west India and analogous monsoonal climates.

Item Type: Article
Authors/Creators:Jones, PJ and O'Connell, TC and Jones, MK and Singh, RN and Petrie, CA
Keywords: archaeology, stable isotope analysis, water stress, Indus Civilisation
Journal or Publication Title: The Holocene
Publisher: Arnold
ISSN: 0959-6836
DOI / ID Number: 10.1177/0959683621994649
Copyright Information:

© The Author(s) 2021. This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 License ( which permits non-commercial use, reproduction and distribution of the work without further permission provided the original work is attributed as specified on the SAGE and Open Access page (

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