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Human tooth enamel as a record of the comparative lead exposure of prehistoric and modern people

Budd, P.; Montgomery, J.; Evans, J.; Barreiro, B.

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P. Budd

J. Evans

B. Barreiro


There is a considerable body of evidence to support the contention that the atmospheric Pb burden is now considerably greater than it was in the remote past. However, as there are a diversity of potential environmental pathways leading to Pb ingestion, it is not clear how atmospheric Pb levels relate to human exposure. It is necessary to establish a baseline for human exposure to Pb from natural sources in the pre-metallurgical past, with which contemporary exposure can be compared. This paper addresses this issue by comparing the Pb content of human dental enamel — an established proxy for Pb exposure — from modern and archaeological, pre-metallurgical individuals using thermal and plasma ionisation mass spectrometry. It is shown that mean Neolithic enamel Pb contents are approximately 0.31±0.04 ppm. These values are only one order of magnitude lower than previously reported data for the same tissues for modern juveniles, despite an established 400-fold increase in the atmospheric Pb burden. The results suggest that ‘natural’ exposure to Pb in food and water may have been higher than previously thought, and that the link between atmospheric Pb and human exposure warrants further investigation.

Journal Article Type Article
Publication Date Dec 1, 2000
Deposit Date Jul 13, 2011
Publicly Available Date Jan 17, 2014
Journal Science of the Total Environment
Print ISSN 0048-9697
Publisher Elsevier
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 263
Issue 1-3
Pages 1-10
Keywords Human dental enamel, Teeth, Lead, Archaeological, Human exposure, Isotope dilution-thermal ionisation mass spectrometry, Pimms, Human Teeth, Archaeological bone, Peat bog, Ancient, Children, Population, Diagenesis, Skeletons, Isotopes, Trace.
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Accepted Journal Article (271 Kb)

Copyright Statement
NOTICE: this is the author’s version of a work that was accepted for publication in Science of the total environment. Changes resulting from the publishing process, such as peer review, editing, corrections, structural formatting, and other quality control mechanisms may not be reflected in this document. Changes may have been made to this work since it was submitted for publication. A definitive version was subsequently published in Science of the total environment, 263 (1-3), 2000, 10.1016/S0048-9697(00)00604-5

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