A lead isotope analysis of the provenance of defixiones (curse tablets) from Roman Carthage, Tunisia
Skaggs, Sheldon Arthur
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A lead isotope analysis study was conducted using thermal ionization mass spectrometry (TIMS) with curse tablets from Roman Carthage and galena ores from northern Tunisia to determine if there was Roman lead mining in Africa Proconsularis, approximately the area of modern day Tunisia. A database was first created from the lead isotope ratios of 83 Tunisian lead ores. These were found to cluster into four types (Nappe/Diapir cluster, Graben/Border cluster, North/South cluster, and the 2nd Layer cluster). The electron microprobe analysis (EMPA) was successfully used to screen the curse tablet samples by X-ray mapping for arsenic, antimony, copper, and silver. This narrowed the number of curse tablets to those most likely produced from Tunisian ores. The curse tablets were then tested using thermal ionization mass spectrometry (TIMS) analysis. A total of 96 Roman lead curse tablets were screened with EMPA and twenty selected for TIMS to determine the ore sources of the lead used to manufacture the tablets. Comparing the lead isotope ratios of twelve of the sixteen tablets most likely to be made of Tunisian lead to samples of Tunisian ores suggests that the Romans were mining lead in Africa Proconsularis and were not relying solely on imports.