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Durham University

Department of Archaeology

Staff

Publication details for Dr Andrew R Millard

Laffoon, JE, Shuler, K, Millard, AR, Connelly, JN & Schroeder, H (2020). Isotopic evidence for anthropogenic lead exposure on a 17th/18th century Barbadian plantation. American Journal of Physical Anthropology 171(3): 529-538.

Author(s) from Durham

Abstract

Objectives:
To identify and characterize anthropogenic lead sources on a 17th/18th century Barbadian plantation and to test if lead isotope analyses can be used to identify the geographic origins of first‐generation African captives.

Materials and Methods:
We carried out lead (Pb) isotope analyses on dental enamel samples from 24 individuals from the Newton Plantation Cemetery in Barbados, which had previously been analyzed for strontium (Sr) and oxygen (O) isotope composition (Schroeder et al., American Journal of Physical Anthropology, 2009, 139:547–557) and Pb concentrations (Schroeder et al., American Journal of Physical Anthropology, 2013, 150:203–209.

Results:
We are able to identify British Pb sources, and more specifically Bristol/Mendips Pb, as the most likely source of anthropogenic Pb on the plantation, highlighting the impact of the British Atlantic economy on the lives of enslaved peoples in Barbados during the period of plantation slavery. Furthermore, we find that there is only one clear outlier among seven individuals who had previously been identified as African‐born based on their enamel Sr isotope composition (Schroeder et al., American Journal of Physical Anthropology, 2009, 139:547–557). All other individuals present a very homogenous Pb isotope composition, which overlaps with that of British Pb sources.

Conclusion:
Our results indicate that while Pb isotope analyses can help identify and further characterize the sources of anthropogenic Pb in plantation settings, they might not be suited for identifying the origins of African‐born individuals in diasporic contexts.