Researchers discover earliest recorded lead exposure in 250,000-year-old Neanderthal teeth

Using evidence found in teeth from two Neanderthals from southeastern France, researchers from the Department of Environmental Medicine and Public Health at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai report the earliest evidence of lead exposure in an extinct human-like species from 250,000 years ago.

Researchers discover earliest recorded lead exposure in 250,000-year-old Neanderthal teeth
Fossilised tooth crowns hold lots of information about past climates and life events 
[Credit: Tanya M Smith]

This study is the first to report lead exposure in Neanderthal and is the first to use teeth to reconstruct climate during and timing of key developmental events including weaning and nursing duration— key determinants of population growth.
The international research team of biological anthropologists, archaeologists, earth scientists, and environmental exposure experts measured barium, lead and oxygen in the teeth for evidence of nursing, weaning, chemical exposure, and climate variations across the growth rings in the teeth. Elemental analysis of the teeth revealed short-term exposure to lead during cooler seasons, possibly from ingestion of contaminated food or water, or inhalation from fires containing lead.

Researchers discover earliest recorded lead exposure in 250,000-year-old Neanderthal teeth
A 250,000-year-old Neanderthal tooth yields an unprecedented record of the seasons of birth, 
nursing, illness, and lead exposures over the first three years of this child’s life 
[Credit: Tanya Smith & Daniel Green]

During fetal and childhood development, a new tooth layer is formed every day. As each of these ‘growth rings’ forms, some of the many chemicals circulating in the body are captured in each layer, which provides a chronological record of exposure. The research team used lasers to sample these layers and reconstruct the past exposures along incremental markings, similar to using growth rings on a tree to determine the tree’s growth history.
This evidence allowed the team to relate the individuals’ development to ancient seasons, revealing that one Neanderthal was born in the spring, and that both Neanderthal children were more likely to be sick during colder periods. The findings are consistent with mammals’ pattern of bearing offspring during periods of increased food availability. The nursing duration of 2.5 years in one individual is similar to the average age of weaning in preindustrial human populations. The researchers note they can’t make broad generalizations about Neanderthals due to the small study size, but that their research methods offer a new approach to answering questions about long extinct species.

Researchers discover earliest recorded lead exposure in 250,000-year-old Neanderthal teeth

A 250,000-year-old Neanderthal tooth yields an unprecedented record of the seasons of birth, 

nursing, illness, and lead exposures over the first three years of this child’s life 

[Credit: Tanya Smith & Daniel Green]

“Traditionally, people thought lead exposure occurred in populations only after industrialization, but these results show it happened prehistorically, before lead had been widely released into the environment,” said one of the study’s lead authors, Christine Austin, Ph.D., Assistant Professor in the Department of Environmental Medicine and Public Health at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. “Our team plans to analyze more teeth from our ancestors and investigate how lead exposures may have affected their health and how that may relate to how our bodies respond to lead today.”
“Dietary patterns in our early life have far reaching consequences for our health, and by understanding how breastfeeding evolved we can help guide the current population on what is good breastfeeding practice,” said Manish Arora Ph.D., BDS, MPH, Professor and Vice Chairman Department of Environmental Medicine and Public Health at the Icahn School of Medicine. “Our research team is working on applying these techniques in contemporary populations to study how breastfeeding alters health trajectories including those of neurodevelopment, cardiac health and other high priority health outcomes.”

“This study reports a major breakthrough in the reconstruction of ancient climates, a significant factor in human evolution, as temperature and precipitation cycles influenced the landscapes and food resources our ancestors relied on,” said the study’s lead author Tanya Smith, Ph.D., Associate Professor at Griffith University.

The study has been published in Science Advances.

Source: The Mount Sinai Hospital [October 31, 2018]

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First intervention on shipwrecks of Alonnisos and the Pagasitikos

An important phase of the European project BLUEMED has been completed in October 2018, which had started in November 2016 and is expected to last till the end of October 2019.

First intervention on shipwrecks of Alonnisos and the Pagasitikos
The Peristera shipwreck after its cleaning and the removal of debris [Credit: EUA]

As part of the project, the best practices for the protection and enhancement of underwater cultural heritage will be studied for the first time at a global level and particularly regarding the operation of underwater archaeological sites of ancient shipwrecks for the public.
At the same time, emphasis will be given to the protection and enhancement of the Mediterranean’s underwater natural wealth and biodiversity.

First intervention on shipwrecks of Alonnisos and the Pagasitikos
The Peristera shipwreck after its cleaning and the removal of debris [Credit: EUA]

As mentioned in the announcement by the Ministry of Culture and Sports, the first in situ intervention to take place was by the Ephorate of Underwater Antiquities (EUA) and their partners from Cyprus (Oceanography Centre, University of Cyprus), Croatia (University of Zagreb) and Italy (University of Calabria) on selected shipwrecks of Alonnisos and the Pagasitikos, for them to be made accessible to the public. This was actively supported both by the Region of Thessaly which is head of the project’s 14 partners and by local scuba diving centres.
From September 28 to October 15, teams from the Ephorate of Underwater Antiquities conducted underwater autopsies, cleaning and inspections in selected pilot sites at Peristera, Alonnisos and the west Pagasitikos.

First intervention on shipwrecks of Alonnisos and the Pagasitikos
The site of the shipwreck at the Telegraphos peninsular [Credit: EUA]

The aim of these works, both on the classical shipwreck of Peristera in Alonnisos and the sites at Kikynthos and the Peninsulars of Telegraphos and Glaros was to initially set the boundaries of the monuments which will correspond to the route of the tour; also to document their present state, to determine points of interest for visitors/divers and to clean up the areas from any waste and modern interventions.
In all, the work of the EUA also aimed to prepare the sites for creating three-dimensional surveys of the shipwrecks and the seabed’s geomorphology, a project that has been undertaken by the University of Calabria in cooperation with the University of Zagreb.

First intervention on shipwrecks of Alonnisos and the Pagasitikos
The Kikynthos shipwreck [Credit: EUA]

Lateral sonar scanning, the method of photogrammetric imprinting and autonomous underwater vehicles were used to recreate the sites. This work was preceded by the mapping and exploration of the sites’ biodiversity, undertaken by the Oceanography Center of the University of Cyprus.
All of these actions taken in the specific underwater pilot sites aim to create the necessary conditions to make them safe to be visited by the public. As stated in the Ministry of Culture’s announcement: “The October venture has been completed with extremely satisfactory results, and with up-to-date information at our disposal, we are better equipped to organize our next moves for the Programme’s successful completion”.

Source: Greek Ministry of Culture via Archaeology and Arts [October 31, 2018]

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