Variation in bioavailable lead, copper, and strontium concentrations in human skeletons from medieval to early modern Denmark

Jesper L. Boldsen, Dorthe Dangvard Pedersen, George R. Milner, Vicki R.L. Kristensen, Lilian Skytte, Stig Bergmann Møller, Torben Birk Sarauw, Charlotte Boje Hilligsø Andersen, Lars Agersnap Larsen, Inger Marie Hyldgaard, Mette Klingenberg, Lars Krants Larsen, Lene Mollerup, Lone Seberg, Lars Christian Bentsen, Morten Søvsø, Tenna Kristensen, Jakob Tue Christensen, Poul Baltzer Heide, Lone C. NørgaardOtto Uldum, Niels Engberg, Rikke Simonsen, Hanna Dahlstrøm, Jesper Langkilde, Niels Wickman, Palle Birk Hansen, Dorthe Wille-Jørgensen, Kasper Wurr Stjernqvist, Anders Rasmussen, Kaare Lund Rasmussen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Three trace elements in human bones permit the delineation of temporal and social variability among medieval to early modern Danes in what they ate (strontium, Sr) and whether they lived in an urban or non-urban setting (lead, Pb; copper, Cu). The chemical composition of bones from 332 children (5 to 12 years old) buried in 51 Danish cemeteries was estimated through Inductively Coupled Plasma Mass Spectrometry (ICP-MS). Children provide a local chemical signal because they were less likely than adults to have moved from one place to another. There was no age effect on trace element concentrations. Geographical variability in trace element concentrations was highly localized, so the three elements, individually or collectively, cannot be used to identify where in Denmark people originated. Diets and exposure to sources of Pb and Cu, however, did not remain constant over time. Trace element concentrations show that the life experiences of people from towns differed from their rural counterparts. While most apparent with Pb and Cu, it is also true of Sr until urban and rural diets converged in the early modern period.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number101587
JournalJournal of Anthropological Archaeology
StatePublished - Jun 2024

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Human Factors and Ergonomics
  • Archaeology
  • History
  • Archaeology

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