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Dangerous food. Isotopes and chemicals in Stone Age/Metal Age seafood in Arctic Norway

Time Thursday 19 May, 2022 at 13:15 - 14:30
Place HC212

The Research Seminar Series in Archaeology and Environmental archaeology invites you to a seminar with Prof. Hans Peter Blankholm, Department of Archaeology, History, Religious Studies and Theology, Tromso University, Norway. The seminar title is "Dangerous food. A staple isotope and chemical element investigation of human seafood during the Younger Stone Age and Early Metal Age in Arctic northern Norway".


Stable isotope and elemental analyses of bones from the marine food that dominated the Younger Stone Age (c. 6.1–3.5 ka BP) diet in Varanger, Arctic northern Norway, indicate, at times, climate change induced highly elevated levels of the heavy metals cadmium (Cd) and lead (Pb), and elevated levels of mercury (Hg). On average, the levels of cadmium and lead contamination in cod were up to 22 and 3–4 times, respectively, higher than today's recommended limits in soft tissue. The corresponding figures for seal were 15 and 3–4 times, respectively. The levels of Hg were generally below today's recommended limit in soft tissue, but still of considerable magnitude, almost similar to the measured values in modern fish in the Arctic. This shows that marine food in the Younger Stone Age was unhealthy, if not unsafe. The elevated values may have been detrimental for humans, if not for society; a balancing factor may have been a larger component of terrestrial resources than previously assumed. Concomitantly, this contribution to the paleo base-line record of toxicity may lead to predictions for seafood contamination in the future.

About the seminar series

The Research Seminar Series in Archaeology and Environmental Archaeology presents and discusses current research in archaeology and environmental archaeology.
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Event type: Seminar
Malcolm Christopher Lillie
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