Saskatoon researchers discover new technique for reading lead in bones

With use of Saskatoon's synchrotron, researchers will now be able to distinguish whether bones were contaminated by lead metal biologically throughout a person's life or after death.

Technique using synchrotron can also be applied to other toxic metals

Ian Coulthard, beamline development scientist with the Canadian Light Source, says the new technique using the synchrotron can also be applied to other toxic metals besides lead. (Submitted by the Canadian Light Source Inc.)

Using Saskatoon's synchrotron, researchers have developed a new technique that will help distinguish whether bone artifacts were contaminated by lead biologically throughout a person's life or after death.

"It's very exciting," Ian Coulthard, beamline development scientist with the Canadian Light Source, said of the new discovery on CBC Radio's Saskatoon Morning.

He explained that present archaeological techniques have far less ability to tell these two types of lead apart.

"Being able to differentiate between these two types of lead now in the same sample allows us to potentially go back and go through these other samples and sites from across history that have been set aside because this lack of certainty." 

He said previous to the discovery, if there was an archaeological site known to have a heavy amount of lead in the soil, it would be abandoned or disregarded. Scientists will now be able to revisit these historical sites and learn more about exposure to toxic metals.

The March issue of the Journal of Analytical Atomic Spectrometry featured cover art based on the Canadian Light Source research team's findings. (Submitted by the Canadian Light Source Inc.)

Coulthard said this technique can also be applied to other toxic metals besides lead.

His team's findings are published in the March issue of the Journal of Analytical Atomic Spectrometry.

The discovery includes research from the University of Saskatchewan, Lakehead University and Cornell University.

With files from CBC Radio's Saskatoon Morning