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Insights into biogenic and diagenetic lead exposure in experimentally altered modern and archaeological bone: synchrotron radiation x-ray fluorescence imaging

Faculty Advisor




Pb, skeletal microstructure, SR-XFI, diagenesis, biogenicity

Abstract (summary)

Bones represent a valuable biological archive of environmental lead (Pb) exposure for modern and archaeological populations. Synchrotron radiation X-ray fluorescence imaging (SR-XFI) generates maps of Pb in bone on a microstructural scale, potentially providing insights into an individual's history of Pb exposure and, in the context of archaeological bone, the biogenic or diagenetic nature of its uptake. The aims of this study were to (1) examine biogenic spatial patterns for Pb from bone samples of modern cadavers compared with patterns observed archaeologically, and (2) test the hypothesis that there are spatial differences in the distribution of Pb for diagenetic and biogenic modes of uptake in bone. To address these aims, this study used inductively coupled plasma-mass spectrometry (ICP-MS) and SR-XFI on unaltered and experimentally altered cadaveric bone samples (University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon, SK) and archaeological bone samples from 18th to 19th century archaeological sites from Antigua and Lithuania. Bone concentrations of modern individuals are relatively low compared to those of archaeological individuals. SR-XFI results provide insights into modern Saskatchewan Pb exposure with some samples demonstrating a pattern of relatively low Pb exposure with higher levels of Pb exposure occurring in bone structures of a relatively older age that formed earlier in life, likely during the era of leaded gasoline (pre1980s), and other samples demonstrating a pattern of fairly consistent, low-level exposure. Results support hypotheses for the spatial distribution of Pb corresponding to biogenic vs. diagenetic uptake. Diagenetic Pb is mainly confined to the periosteal surface of each sample with some enrichment of cracks and sub-periosteal canals. This may be useful in the future for differentiating diagenetic from biogenic Pb accumulation, analyzing environmental contamination, and informing sampling strategies in archaeological or fossil bone.

Publication Information

Simpson, R., T. L. Varney, I. Coulthard, T. Swanston, V. Grimes, T. J. A. Munkittrick, R. Jankauskas, and D. M. L. Cooper. (2021). Insights into biogenic and diagenetic lead exposure in experimentally altered modern and archaeological bone: Synchrotron radiation X-ray fluorescence imaging. Science of the Total Environment 790, article 148144.


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Attribution (CC BY)