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Durham University

Department of Archaeology


Publication details for Dr Andrew R Millard

Millard, A.R., Montgomery, J, Trickett, M, Beaumont, J, Evans, J & Chenery, S (2014). Childhood lead exposure in the British Isles during the industrial revolution. In Modern Environments and Human Health: Revisiting the Second Epidemiological Transition. Zuckerman, M Wiley-Blackwell. 279-300.

Author(s) from Durham


Man-made toxin exposure is one of the defining characteristics of the second epidemiological transition. Our analysis of previous data shows that lead levels in tooth enamel above 0.87 ppm are characteristic of exposure to anthropogenic lead. In British prehistoric and Early Medieval populations very low lead concentrations have been observed, but Roman, later Medieval and Post-medieval populations show much higher levels, up to 90 ppm. Our measurements of lead concentrations within the tooth enamel of four 17th and 18th century populations from Coventry and London show no detectable association between lead exposure and cribra orbitalia (as a possible indicator of anaemia caused by plumbism), but do show population differences which we attribute to lower exposure of poor and rural people compared to rich and urban people. No differences in lead exposure by sex were found. Lead isotope ratios indicate that coal smoke was not a major contributor to lead exposure, but that ingested lead from artefacts is the most likely source. We show that the lead to which people were exposed in the post-medieval period has a similar average isotope ratio to that in the Roman period, but differs from early and later medieval periods.