Mineral analysis of ancient Peruvian hair


  • This is a preliminary report on some of the research of a joint research program of the University of Missouri-Columbia and the Centro de Investigaciones de Zonas Aridas of the Universidad Nacional Agraria, Lima, Peru. Financial support for this work was partly from a grant from the Research Council of the University of Missouri-Columbia. The original excavations were funded in part by the French Foreign Ministry. We would especially like to thank Dr. Frederic Engel for generously making these samples available.


Ancient Peruvian hair has been excavated from a series of archaeological sites on the Peruvian coast. After careful cleaning, examination by scanning electron microscopy revealed most of the samples to be in a state of preservation comparable to modern hair. No evidence of pathological conditions was observed. Trace metal composition was determined by atomic absorption and flame emission spectrophotometry and nitrogen by Kjeldahl analysis, producing the following results: (1) nitrogen is lost with time, while all other tested minerals except zinc and copper showed irregular increases; (2) relatively high chromium levels may indicate that diabetes was not present in the samples; and (3) no consistent trend in the ratio of calcium to strontium was found through time and across corresponding dietary shifts.