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Keywords:

  • Lead;
  • Bone;
  • Skeletal;
  • Colonial American

Abstract

Lead content was determined in the skeletal tissue of 82 individuals representing two black and two white Colonial American populations: Catoctin Furnace, College Landing, Governor's Land, and Irene Mound. Group and individual differences in bone lead concentrations were used to assess behavioral, social and occupational characteristics.

Variations in skeletal lead content suggested that the white owners of the Catoctin iron furnace shared little of their food and beverage with their black, male, industrial slaves, but that some of these workers' women had access to the owners' food sources—probably via domestic duty assignments. A broad range of lead concentrations in bones of the free blacks at College Landing implies a wide range of economic success among these tradesmen. Bone lead content of the white populations at Governor's Land and Irene Mound helped confirm family relationships that had been assigned on an archaeological and osteological basis, and also suggested that the social and functional status of the white tenant farmers' white servants frequently differed little from that of black slaves.

These findings suggest that, when applied in appropriate circumstances, lead studies of archaeological skeletal tissue may provide information supplemental to that derived from historical, archaeological, or other conventional sources.