In Europe, an increased use of lead (Pb) is observed from the early medieval
period to the late medieval period as evidenced by historical research and the recovery of a large range of lead and lead-coated objects during excavations. These include lead pipes used for water distribution, different roofing materials, Pb-glazing used on different vessels, and other everyday household goods. How this increase in Pb use in the late medieval period impacted the health remains unclear but it is likely to have influenced both the humans and the environment. By investigating Pb-concentrations in human remains, it might become possible to shed light on human health and even mobility between societies with higher or lower lead concentrations. Our study focuses on the Pb concentrations in the skeletal remains of the late medieval city of Ypres (13th- 14th century) and the early medieval population of Koksijde (7th-8th century), to investigate if in-vivo exposure to Pb can be detected.

Traditional Pb measurements on archaeological remains focus on enamel rather than on bone apatite due to the possible post-mortem exchange of Pb with the
soil. However, as dental enamel only represents a childhood signal, the lifestyle during adulthood often remains vague. In this study, using micro–X-ray fluorescence, we explore the Pb concentrations in bone material of twenty-five individuals from the population of Ypres by comparing them with twenty individuals from the early medieval site of Koksijde where exposure to anthropogenic Pb would have been minimal.

The application of an aluminium (Al) 630 μm source filter during the semi-quantitative element mapping, instead of traditional mapping without filters, allows for the detection of Pb by reducing the X-ray signal for light elements such as P and Ca. A clear difference in Pb concentrations is observed between Koksijde and Ypres, with the latter site being significantly more enriched. In addition, our pre-liminary results show intra-site variations for Ypres and raises the question if these differences could be caused purely by post-mortem processes or (partly) by in-vivo exposure to lead.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusUnpublished - 23 Sep 2021
EventBone Diagenesis - Evora, Evora, Portugal
Duration: 21 Sep 202123 Oct 2021


ConferenceBone Diagenesis


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