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Keywords:

  • lead isotope ratio;
  • bone fracture;
  • diagenesis;
  • historical archaeology;
  • speciation

Abstract

Living bone sequesters environmental lead (Pb) from both inhalation and ingestion, providing a record of Pb exposure over a lifetime. Questions about the effects of diagenesis and how to remove them have hampered most isotopic and elemental determinations. As a result, researchers often restrict their analyses to tooth enamel, despite its limitations. We report Pb isotopes in teeth and bones in a frontier population of 15 individuals from a late 19th century mental hospital graveyard in Pueblo, Colorado, a town active at that time in the smelting of ores. Analysis of lead isotopes sequestered in healing bone from rib fractures gives an isotopic fingerprint from the last few months of individual's lives. When bone tissues or teeth from different stages of life are analysed, life history trajectories such as migration routes can be developed which are partially self-correcting for diagenesis. Copyright © 2005 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.