Join us Thursday, February 24 at 4 pm CET (10 am ET), to learn more about (bio)archaeology!
Prof. Kirsi Lorentz will tell us more, LIVE from Cyprus!
Health is a critical factor for individuals, societies, and economies to thrive. Human metal exposure is topical today and has affected humanity since the first exploitation of metals, at the core of our civilization. This presentation highlights how physics matters in the study of this topic, specifically through the use of synchrotron light, X-ray Fluorescence (SR-XRF), and X-ray absorption fine structure (XAFS) in particular, used to explore not only the presence but crucially in the context of human health, the speciation of heavy metals in ancient human tissues, including bone, dental tissues, hair, and skin. Metals such as lead (Pb), arsenic (As), and copper (Cu), were mined, manufactured, and used at ancient archaeological sites, enabling technological advances. Cultural aesthetics led to the use of heavy metals in pigments decorating artifacts, and in cosmetics for enhancing personal appearance. In my first case study, the ID21 scanning X-ray microscope optimized for 2D μXRF (elemental maps) was used at the ESRF (European Synchrotron Radiation Facility) to obtain detailed elemental maps, including Cu, in ancient human hair sections. Only a handful of studies using synchrotron radiation enabled approaches to ancient human hair have been undertaken to date, few studies explore metal element distribution within ancient hair and none Cu in particular. Key archaeological questions, such as effects of intensive metal and craftwork on human health, can be investigated using synchrotron radiation micro X-Ray Fluorescence (SR-μXRF) in exploring biogenic versus diagenetic/environmental uptake of metals, and copper in particular, in ancient human hair. Through the second case study within this talk, I showcase the use of extended X-ray absorption fine structure (EXAFS) to explore heavy metal speciation (Pb) in ancient human tissues in the context of exploring past human health in ancient Iran, using the SESAME (Synchrotron-light for Experimental Science and Applications in the Middle East) XAFS/XRF beamline (results of the first official user beamtime at SESAME). Metals allowed humanity to become what it is today, but not without a cost. Synchrotron light enables us to explore human health in the deep past, as well as in the present.