Geochemical signatures of soapstones from the Nuuk area, southern West Greenland – their use for fingerprinting of archaeological artefacts

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Soapstone was mined and traded by the Palaeo- and Neo-Eskimo cultures (Saqqaq, Dorset, and Thule) as well as the Norse and Moravian cultures living in Greenland through time. We collected soapstone from outcrops around Nuuk, which hold large quantities of Greenland's high-quality soapstone, and analysed their whole-rock geochemistry, Sm–Nd and Rb–Sr isotopes for fingerprinting geological and archaeological purposes. Fieldwork showed that the quality of soapstone in the Nuuk area varies widely; however, a correlation exists with the age and metamorphic history of the rocks. Soapstone in the Nuuk area is derived from Archaean ultramafic rocks and yield high Mg, Cr, Ni and low Fe, V, K concentrations and are depleted in Ca. Soapstones from Nuuk have very high Rb concentrations and average to low Sr concentrations compared to other Archaean ultramafic rocks, leading to very high and irregular 87Rb/86Sr and 87Sr/86Sr ratios. A very poorly constrained Rb–Sr errorchron for unmetasomatised samples from the Nuuk area has a slope corresponding to an age of 3.05 ± 0.33 Ga. Soapstone samples from Nuuk, both affected and unaffected by metasomatism give a147Sm/144Nd isochron age of 2.95 ± 0.06 Ga. This is regarded as the age of metsomatism, and tectono-metamorphic overprinting, which affected the precursors to the soapstone. The best quality soapstones occur in the areas dominated by Eoarchaean gneisses. The ca. 2.95 Ga overprinting is uncommonly old for soapstones worldwide. Soapstone, and hence archaeological artefacts created from this soapstone, may likely be fingerprinted to the Nuuk area.

Original languageEnglish
Article number105552
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Archaeological Science
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2022


  • Eoarchaean
  • Geoarchaeology
  • Godthåbsfjord (Nuup Kangerlua)
  • Provenance
  • Rb–Sr isotope Geochemistry
  • Sm/Nd isochron age
  • Steatite/soapstone

Programme Area

  • Programme Area 4: Mineral Resources


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