The 89th Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (2020)

Synchrotron X-ray Fluorescence Imaging of Biogenic and Experimentally-Induced Diagenetic Lead Exposure in Modern and Archaeological Bone


1Archaeology and Anthropology, University of Saskatchewan, 2Anthropology, Lakehead University, 3Anthropology, Economics, Political Science, MacEwan University, 4Biological Sciences, MacEwan University, 5n/a, Canadian Light Source, 6Anatomy, Physiology, Pharmacology, University of Saskatchewan

April 16, 2020 , Platinum Ballroom Add to calendar

Bioarchaeological trace element analysis of lead (Pb) can provide a window into the industries, socioeconomic dynamics, morbidity, and mortality of past human populations. However, difficulties accounting for the effects of element diagenesis, the post-mortem modification of bone’s chemical composition, have plagued this area of research for decades. Lead from the burial environment can accumulate in bone, masking the biogenic uptake of lead that occurred during an individual’s life. Novel techniques such as synchrotron X-ray Fluorescence Imaging (XFI) provide precise spatial data for elements; by assessing the distribution of elements in relation to bone microstructure, it may be possible to discriminate the nature of element exposure. Previous research has used XFI to identify possible examples of biogenic or diagenetic lead exposure from the bioarchaeological record; however, experimental research is required to validate whether there are indeed spatial differences in biogenic and diagenetic exposure. For the present study, we obtained femoral samples from a cadaveric collection and experimentally exposed a portion of each sample to a pseudo-diagenetic lead treatment. We used XFI to map the spatial microdistribution of lead in archaeological bone samples from Antigua and Lithuania representing examples of possible biogenic and diagenetic lead exposure respectively. XFI will also be used to examine the spatial patterns of lead in both the treated and untreated modern cadaveric samples. Through the comparison of the lead distribution maps across bone microstructural features for both biogenic and diagenetic lead exposure, we will expand on the utility of this method for identifying diagenesis in bioarchaeological remains.

This research has been supported by a SSHRC Insight Grant (Dr. Tamara Varney, P.I.) and the Canadian Research Chairs Program (Dr. David Cooper).

Slides/Poster (pdf)