Physical removal of contaminative inorganic material from buried human bone

Joseph B. Lambert, Liang Xue, Jane E. Buikstra

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations


Introduction of inorganic contaminants to bone during burial poses a serious problem for the interpretaion of the levels of these elements in terms of ancient diet. We have found that the problem of non-uniform contamination may be reduced or even eliminated for some elements by removal of 1-3 mm of the surface of the bone by physical abrasion. Whereas surface contamination on unabraded bone is readily visible in human femurs by scanning electron microscopy (SEM), there is no evidence for contamination according to SEM after abrasion. This process of surface removal significantly reduces the levels of Zn, Cd, K, Al, Fe and Mn, but has no effect on Na, Ca, Mg, Sr and Ba for these Woodland and Mississippian samples from west-central Illinois. The latter group of elements apparently survived burial without significant contamination. The former group of elements was contaminated by the soil environment, but at least for Zn, Cd, K and possibly Fe surface removal has returned the elemental proportions in the remainder of the bone to close to biogenic levels. Analysis of variance between subgroups after cleaning shows differences in Zn and Cu between sexes, in Ca, Mg and Sr over time, and in Na and Ba based on age at death.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)427-436
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Archaeological Science
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jul 1989
Externally publishedYes


  • contamination
  • diagenesis
  • mississippian period
  • trace elements
  • woodland period

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Archaeology
  • Archaeology


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