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

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review

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Abstract

For medieval and post-medieval Denmark and northern Germany, trace elements can potentially contribute toour understanding of diet, migration, social status, exposure to urban settings, and disease treatment. Copper, ofparticular interest as a marker of access to everyday metal items, can be used to clarify socioeconomic distinctionsbetween and within communities. Postmortem alteration of bone (diagenesis), however, must be ruled out beforethe elements can be used to characterize life in the past. Femoral cortical bone samples of ca. 40 mg were thoroughlydecontaminated, and the concentrations of Al, Ca, Mn, Fe, Cu, As, Sr, Ba, and Pb were measured using inductivelycoupled plasma mass spectrometry. The concentrations of these elements were quantifed in bone samples from 553skeletons from 9 rural and urban cemeteries, and 34 soil samples obtained near three burials. Copper, the primaryelement of interest in this work, is generally absent from the femoral cortical bone of rural people, although it occursin high concentrations in the skeletons of the inhabitants of towns. The Cu in medieval to post-medieval bones likelyoriginated from everyday objects, notably kitchen utensils. A rural to urban distinction in Cu concentrations, foundrepeatedly at two sites, likely resulted from diferential access to much-desired, although still utilitarian, householditems. An uneven distribution of metal objects used in domestic contexts, demonstrated through bone chemistry,was greater between rural and urban co
Original languageEnglish
Article number18
JournalHeritage Science
Volume8
Issue number1
Number of pages22
ISSN2050-7445
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2020

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