Mercury in soil surrounding medieval human skeletons

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Studying medieval skeletons is a direct way to obtain information about life in medieval societies with very little other information available about the living conditions of ordinary people. In this paper we investigate how Hg is distributed in soil samples surrounding seven medieval skeletons excavated at the cemeteries Lindegaarden in Ribe and Ole Wormsgade in Horsens, both situated in Jutland, Denmark.The analyses have been performed using Cold Vapour Atomic Absorption Spectroscopy (CV-AAS). The results show systematic variations of the Hg concentrations in soil samples as a function of distance extending horizontally from the femur. Two individuals showed soil Hg concentrations at the background level, below ca. 100 ng g -1, whereas soil samples surrounding the other five individuals exhibited much larger Hg concentrations.Our interpretation of the data is that in general the Hg, which was once situated in the soft tissue, is still present and in-place in the soil now surrounding the skeleton. Due to the overburden of ca. 3 feet of topsoil the residual of the soft tissue has been condensed into the mid-plane of the flattened corpse. The decomposed soft tissue now mixed with the soil can in this way be sampled near the femur as well as from the inner organs: the kidneys, the liver and the lungs.

TidsskriftHeritage Science
Udgave nummer1
Antal sider10
StatusUdgivet - 2013