The heavy metal content of skeletons from an ancient metalliferous polluted area in southern Jordan with particular reference to bioaccumulation and human health

This paper considers pollution/toxicological science in an archaeological context. Copper mining was an important activity in southern Jordan, especially during the Bronze Age, Nabatean, Roman, and Byzantine periods, and the environmental legacy of such intensive mining and smelting activities exists today in the form of massive, ancient spoil and smelting tips. The environment was heavily polluted by copper, lead, and other cations during these early periods and the effects of such pollutants continue into modern times. Samples of goat, sheep, and Bronze Age and Byzantine skeletons have been analyzed and high metal loads, from uptake by diverse processes, are reported. Emphasis is placed on the importance of sampling procedure and sample location, bioaccumulation, and the partitioning of such elements. Implications of such pollutants in terms of environmental and human health in ancient and modern times are discussed. Teeth are found to provide excellent vehicles for the monitoring of pollution in both ancient and recent times. Bronze Age skeletons exhibited chemical fingerprints different from those of the Byzantine period.