Lead in teeth holds secrets of person's origins, research shows

Wed Jul 30, 2014 8:11pm EDT
 
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By Barbara Liston

ORLANDO Fla. (Reuters) - The lead in human teeth holds clues about where a person grew up and can help criminal investigators and archaeologists working with old or decomposed corpses, according to a University of Florida researcher.

Because lead ore deposits around the world differ, and as young people's teeth absorb traces of the metal in the environment, the region where a person grew up can be distinguished through lead analysis of a tooth, said geologist George Kamenov.

His study on the topic will appear in the August issue of Science of The Total Environment, a peer-reviewed journal.

"If you were born in Europe and then came to the U.S., yes, I will be able to see that," Kamenov said. "I was born in Bulgaria so I have the European ... signal."

Kamenov said he has worked with law enforcement officers on cold cases, with lead analysis helping investigators narrow their focus.

In addition to aiding authorities in identifying bodies, the analysis can help archaeologists locate human remains on an historical timeline, he said.

The impact of leaded gasoline used from the 1920s through 1980s is also reflected in the teeth, which can help narrow a body's age, Kamenov said.

Teeth can reveal whether a person spent formative years in the United States versus Europe, South America, Australia or other broad regions, he said.   Continued...