Copper exposure in medieval and post-medieval Denmark and northern Germany: its relationship to residence location and social position

Kaare Lund Rasmussen*, George R. Milner, Thomas Delbey, Lilian Skytte, Morten Sovso, Frederik Callesen, Jesper Lier Boldsen

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Abstrakt

For medieval and post-medieval Denmark and northern Germany, trace elements can potentially contribute to our understanding of diet, migration, social status, exposure to urban settings, and disease treatment. Copper, of particular interest as a marker of access to everyday metal items, can be used to clarify socioeconomic distinctions between and within communities. Postmortem alteration of bone (diagenesis), however, must be ruled out before the elements can be used to characterize life in the past. Femoral cortical bone samples of ca. 40 mg were thoroughly decontaminated, and the concentrations of Al, Ca, Mn, Fe, Cu, As, Sr, Ba, and Pb were measured using inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry. The concentrations of these elements were quantified in bone samples from 553 skeletons from 9 rural and urban cemeteries, and 34 soil samples obtained near three burials. Copper, the primary element of interest in this work, is generally absent from the femoral cortical bone of rural people, although it occurs in high concentrations in the skeletons of the inhabitants of towns. The Cu in medieval to post-medieval bones likely originated from everyday objects, notably kitchen utensils. A rural to urban distinction in Cu concentrations, found repeatedly at two sites, likely resulted from differential access to much-desired, although still utilitarian, household items. An uneven distribution of metal objects used in domestic contexts, demonstrated through bone chemistry, was greater between rural and urban communities than it was within urban centres, at least among the socioeconomic positions sampled in this study.
OriginalsprogEngelsk
Artikelnummer18
TidsskriftHeritage Science
Vol/bind8
Udgave nummer1
Antal sider22
ISSN2050-7445
DOI
StatusUdgivet - 2020

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