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Sampling strategy and analysis of trace element concentrations by inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry on medieval human bones – the concept of chemical life history


Correspondence to: K. L. Rasmussen, Institute of Physics, Chemistry and Pharmacy, University of Southern Denamrk, Campusvej 55, DK-5230 Odense M, Denmark.




Medieval human bones have the potential to reveal diet, mobility and treatment of diseases in the past. During the last two decades trace element chemistry has been used extensively in archaeometric investigations revealing such data. Many studies have reported the trace element inventory in only one sample from each skeleton – usually from the femur or a tooth. It cannot a priori be assumed that all bones or teeth in a skeleton will have the same trace element concentrations.


Six different bone and teeth samples from each individual were carefully decontaminated by mechanical means. Following dissolution of ca. 20 mg sample in nitric acid and hydrogen peroxide the assays were performed using inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry (ICPMS) with quadropole detection. We describe the precise sampling technique as well as the analytical methods and parameters used for the ICPMS analysis.


The places of sampling in the human skeleton did exhibit varying trace element concentrations. Although the samples are contaminated by Fe, Mn and Al from the surrounding soil where the bones have been residing for more than 500 years, other trace elements are intact within the bones. It is shown that the elemental ratios Sr/Ca and Ba/Ca can be used as indicators of provenance.


The differences in trace element concentrations can be interpreted as indications of varying diet and provenance as a function of time in the life of the individual – a concept which can be termed chemical life history. A few examples of the results of such analyses are shown, which contains information about provenance and diagenesis. Copyright © 2013 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

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