No man's paradise : lead burden and diet reconstruction from human skeletal remains in a colonial cemetery from Antigua
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The primary focus of this thesis is to examine the relationship between diet, as reconstructed via stable isotope analysis, and bone lead levels, quantified by trace element analysis for individuals interred at the Royal Naval Hospital Cemetery (RNHC), A.D. 1793-1822, in Antigua, West Indies. Individuals of both African and European ancestries were recovered from this colonial-era cemetery, and samples from their remains were analyzed to determine stable carbon and nitrogen isotope values (as a proxy for diet), and bone lead levels. The data were then compared in order to elucidate any association among the variables. This investigation revealed that the relationship between diet and lead may have been affected by many variables including ancestry, status, agency, and duration of stay in the West Indies. However, from the results presented in this thesis, the strongest correlation between stable isotope signatures and bone lead levels is in the relationship between δ13Ccollagen and lead for individuals consuming a diet primarily consisting of C3 staple starches and C3 fed animals. A secondary focus of this thesis is to estimate the extent to which the individuals interred at the RNHC may have suffered from symptoms of lead poisoning. Through conversion of bone lead levels to blood lead levels, potential symptomatology may be estimated in order to determine the percentage of individuals from the population that may have experienced mild to severe lead poisoning. In this population, a majority of individuals had high enough blood lead levels that they may have suffered from a range of symptoms associated with exposure to lead, which is not inconsistent with historical assertions that lead poisoning was of considerable detriment to the health and well-being of individuals serving in the British military in the colonial Caribbean. This study provides further insight into the health and lifeways of lower-ranking naval personnel and enslaved labourers owned by the Navy in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century West Indies.
DegreeMaster of Arts (M.A.)
DepartmentArchaeology and Anthropology
SupervisorLieverse, Angela R.; Varney, Tamara L.
CommitteeSwanston, Treena; Cooper, David
Copyright DateAugust 2015
Human skeletal remains