, Volume 110, Issue 1, pp 283-291

Are archaeological bones similar to modern bones? An INAA assessment

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For more than a decade, archaeometrists have been analyzing archaeologically recovered human bones in an attempt to relate their trace element contents to diet. Although the problems of diagenesis have been recognized, the variable effects have been difficult to establish. In this paper, an assessment is made of the analytical reliability of the INAA determination of major and trace elements, using their short-lived radioisotopes in both regular and defatted modern cancellous bone, and in modern cortical bone. This modern bone information is then compared with analytical data for bones from Egyptian mummies ranging in age from ≈2000 to ≈3700 BP, and with normallyburied 11 th century French bones. Diagenetic effects may readily be detected by the measurement of elevated quantities of V, Mn, and Al in soil-contaminated bones. The Ca to P concentration ratios and the organic content may also be used to separate bone from diagenetically altered archaeological specimens.