The 81st Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (2012)


Bone microstructural features combined with synchrotron radiation x-ray fluorescence spatial maps of lead and strontium in historical bone samples from Antigua suggests biogenic uptake

TREENA M. SWANSTON1, TAMARA VARNEY2, IAN COULTHARD3, CHERYL HENNIG1, REG MURPHY4 and DAVID M.L. COOPER1.

1Department of Anatomy and Cell Biology, University of Saskatchewan, 2Department of Anthropology, Lakehead University, 3n/a, Canadian Light Source, 4n/a, National Parks Antigua

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A promising method to discern the diagenetic from biogenic origin of trace elements in archaeological bone is to identify the spatial distribution of the elements with synchrotron radiation x-ray fluorescence (SR-XRF) and match the spatial maps with histological features of the bone. We have successfully used this approach on cortical fragments associated with a nonsegregated Royal British Naval cemetery population (1793-1822) located in Antigua, West Indies. It has been suggested that during the early 19th century, members of the Royal British Navy were impacted by lead poisoning. We therefore hypothesized that evidence of biogenic lead uptake would be present in skeletons from this historical context but would be absent from precontact samples from the island. Secondarily, we explored the distribution of strontium within these groups hypothesizing that the more mobile historical population would exhibit a more heterogeneous distribution of this element. This preliminary study (n=4 historical, n=1 precontact) revealed evidence of the biogenic uptake of lead in the historical Antiguan samples, whereas the precontact sample was negative for lead. Both the historical and precontact samples exhibited heterogeneous distributions of strontium. This pattern suggests that pre-contact and post-contact diets consisted of food and water containing strontium and that these levels varied. While the use of SR-XRF is not novel, the successful application of this technique where trace element spatial distributions are mapped to discreet bone features holds new promise for the area of trace element research.

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