Environmental Health and Preventive Medicine

, Volume 14, Issue 1, pp 52–59

Reconstruction of human exposure to heavy metals using synchrotron radiation microbeams in prehistoric and modern humans

  • Akio Koizumi
  • Miki Azechi
  • Koyo Shirasawa
  • Norimitsu Saito
  • Kiyohide Saito
  • Nobuo Shigehara
  • Kazuhiro Sakaue
  • Yoshihiro Shimizu
  • Hisao Baba
  • Akira Yasutake
  • Kouji H. Harada
  • Takeo Yoshinaga
  • Ari Ide-Ektessabi
Regular Article



Teeth can serve as records of environmental exposure to heavy metals during their formation. We applied a new technology — synchrotron radiation microbeams (SRXRF) — for analysis of heavy metals in human permanent teeth in modern and historical samples.


Each tooth was cut in half. A longitudinal section 200 μm in thickness was subjected to the determination of the heavy metal content by SRXRF or conventional analytical methods (ICP-MS analysis or reduction–aeration atomic absorption spectrometry). The relative concentrations of Pb, Hg, Cu and Zn measured by SRXRF were translated in concentrations (in g of heavy metal/g of enamel) using calibration curves by the two analytical methods.


Concentrations in teeth in the modern females (n = 5) were 1.2 ± 0.5 μg/g (n = 5) for Pb; 1.7 ± 0.2 ng/g for Hg; 0.9 ± 1.1 μg/g for Cu; 150 ± 24.6 μg/g for Zn. The levels of Pb were highest in the teeth samples obtained from the humans of the Edo era (1603–1868 ad) (0.5–4.0 μg/g, n = 4). No trend was observed in this study in the Hg content in teeth during 3,000 years. The concentrations of Cu were highest in teeth of two medieval craftsmen (57.0 and 220 μg/g). The levels of Zn were higher in modern subjects (P < 0.05) than those in the Jomon (~1000 bc) to Edo periods [113.2 ± 27.4 (μg/g, n = 11)]. Reconstruction of developmental exposure history to lead in a famous court painter of the Edo period (18th century) revealed high levels of Pb (7.1–22.0 μg/g) in his childhood.


SRXRF is useful a method for reconstructing human exposures in very long trends.


Enamel Synchrotron radiation microbeams Heavy metals Prehistoric Human 


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Copyright information

© The Japanese Society for Hygiene 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  • Akio Koizumi
    • 1
  • Miki Azechi
    • 1
    • 2
  • Koyo Shirasawa
    • 3
  • Norimitsu Saito
    • 4
  • Kiyohide Saito
    • 5
  • Nobuo Shigehara
    • 6
  • Kazuhiro Sakaue
    • 7
  • Yoshihiro Shimizu
    • 8
  • Hisao Baba
    • 9
  • Akira Yasutake
    • 10
  • Kouji H. Harada
    • 1
  • Takeo Yoshinaga
    • 1
    • 11
  • Ari Ide-Ektessabi
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of Health and Environmental Sciences Graduate School of MedicineKyoto UniversityKyotoJapan
  2. 2.Ogaki Women’s CollegeOgakiJapan
  3. 3.Graduate School of EngineeringKyoto UniversityKyotoJapan
  4. 4.Research Institute for Environmental Sciences and Public Health of Iwate PrefectureMoriokaJapan
  5. 5.Archaeological Institute of KashiharaKashiharaJapan
  6. 6.Primate Research InstituteKyoto UniversityInuyamaJapan
  7. 7.Department of Anatomy and AnthropologyTohoku University School of MedicineSendaiJapan
  8. 8.Center for Archaeological OperationsKyoto UniversityKyotoJapan
  9. 9.National Museum of Nature and ScienceTokyoJapan
  10. 10.National Institute for Minamata DiseaseMinamataJapan
  11. 11.Yuhigaokagakuen Junior CollegeOsakaJapan

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