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Department of Archaeology

Staff

Miss Joanna Moore

(email at j.f.moore@durham.ac.uk)

Research Topic

Environmental lead pollution in the Roman Empire: characterising its effects on juvenile exposure, health and geographic mobility.

Abstract

The extensive exploitation of lead during the Roman period increased its accessibility throughout the Empire. Whether exposure to lead was deliberate (e.g. sapa) or inadvertent (e.g. contaminated water), individuals could accumulate hazardous concentrations of this insidious metal within their bodies from a plethora of sources. Today it is accepted that there is no safe level of lead burden within the body. Adverse health effects have been recorded with blood lead levels as low as 5μg/dL, especially in children, who are more susceptible to lead poisoning than adults (Needleman 2003). Childhood lead concentrations from Roman tooth enamel has reveal lead burdens up to three times higher than what is today considered ‘severely toxic’ (Montgomery et al. 2010). The demographic profiles of Romano-British skeletal populations attest to the fragility of childhood health during this period, especially within the first year of life (Carroll 2014). It is therefore surprising that so little research exists on childhood lead burdens and their effects on Roman sub-adult health and mortality. This research will explore whether the zealous use of lead in the Roman Empire contributed to the preponderant failure to thrive evident in Roman sub-adult populations, and if lead exposure can be used to determine geographic origins in migration studies. Indicators of stress and disease in sub-adult skeletal material from sites across the Roman Empire (Spain, Italy, Hungary, Slovenia, Romania, Lebanon and Libya) will be assessed in conjunction with tooth enamel lead concentrations and lead isotope ratios. This research offers new insights into the impact of anthropogenic lead exploitation on child health within the Roman Empire and how this may have differed according to geographic and socio-cultural variations.

Conference contributions

Papers:

2016: 'Bioarchaeological perspectives on the effects of anthropogenic lead pollution on Roman children from Tarragona, Spain'. IAPETUS Annual Studentship Conference. 3rd - 7th May, IMEDEA Mallorca.

2016: 'Bioarchaeological perspectives on lead poisoning in the Roman Empire'. St. Cuthbert's Society Postgraduate Research Forum. 1st February, Durham University. 

2016: 'Characterising the effects of environmental lead pollution on the health and mortality of a Roman population from Tarragona, Spain'. Little Lives: New Perspectives on Child Health and the Life Course in Bioarchaeology, SCCIP. 30th January, Durham University.

2015: ‘Environmental lead pollution in the Roman Empire: characterising its effects on juvenile exposure, health and geographic mobility’. IAPETUS Annual Studentship Conference. 20th - 21st April, University of Stirling.

Posters:

2016: 'Palaeopathological analysis of a sub-adult population from a late Roman site in Tarraco (Tarragona, Spain)'. Co-author - Laura Castells-Navarro. 43rd Annual Meeting of the Paleopathology Association. 12th - 13th April, Atlanta.

2015: 'Environmental lead pollution in the Roman Empire: charaterising its effects on juvenile exposure and childhood health'. Co-authors - Janet Montgomery, Rebecca Gowland and Jane Evans. British Association for Biological Anthropology and Osteoarchaeology Annual Conference. 18th - 20th September, University of Sheffield.

Publications

Journal Article

Selected Grants

  • 2016: St. Cuthbert's Society Postgraduate Research Grant

Is supervised by