1Sociology and Anthropology, Howard University, 2Natural Science, Hampshire College, 3Anthropology, College of William and Mary
Saturday Afternoon, 200DE
Through bone chemistry, bioarchaeologists established environmental lead as one of the many “life stresses of slavery.” In this paper, we revisit the issue of lead in African-American biohistory using laser sampling of tooth enamel to measure biogenic concentrations in developmental real-time, i.e., during crown calcification. We report recent findings on early-life lead burden of those buried at the 18th-century New York African Burial Ground and discuss implications for reconstructing migration and health.
Mean M1/I1 lead concentrations for young children (5.88 μg g-1) are over four times those of adults (1.33 μg g-1), suggesting American versus African geographic origins of the children. Other findings raise questions at the intersections of natality, health and culture. For example, why were mean enamel-lead concentrations for males over twice that observed for females? Do differences in lead concentration correspond to differences in the timing (age), sources or nature of lead exposure? Do high lead levels indicate American birthplaces for a few adults with culturally modified teeth, contradicting the practice’s well-established relationship to African natality?
We seek a better understanding of colonial-era manifestations of lead poisoning, a disease with distinct racial and class dimensions today. We draw insight and inspiration from the work of George Armelagos: his integrative (evolutionary, historical and political economic) analytical framework linking human health, migration and inequality through time and his fundamental concern with the biological consequences of social vulnerability, past and present. In Armelagosian fashion, this study explores new methodological and theoretical pathways for African diasporic bioarchaeology “as anthropology.”