Original paper

Analysis of mercury levels in historical bone material from syphilitic subjects - pilot studies (short report)

Kępa, Małgorzata; Kozłowski, Tomasz; Szostek, Krzysztof; Drozd, Alicja; Walas, Stanisław; Mrowiec, Halina; Stepańczak, Beata; Głąb, Henryk; Grupa, Małgorzata

Anthropologischer Anzeiger Volume 69 No. 3 (2012), p. 367 - 377

published: Jul 1, 2012

DOI: 10.1127/0003-5548/2012/0163

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ArtNo. ESP140006903009, Price: 29.00 €

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The aim of the present work is to study the remains of seven individuals with typical symptoms of tertiary syphilis in terms of mercury content in bones, thereby verifying whether they were subjected to treatment and, if they were, how long their organisms were exposed to toxic mercury fumes. Mercury was used, mainly in the Middle Ages and in the early modern period, as a preventive measure in case of individuals suffering from syphilis, a venereal disease, and also leprosy. Syphilitic patients treated this way should demonstrate increased concentration of mercury in their bones. The skeletons studied in the present work originate from various archaeological sites in southern and north-central Poland. The analyses concerned individuals with diagnosed syphilis as well as healthy individuals who constituted the control group. The analyses were performed by the LA-ICP-MS technique, with the use of laser Nd: YAG, Macro, 266 nm, New Wave, USA, coupled with Spectrometer Elan DRC-e Perkin Elmer, USA. The content analysis of the studied bone material revealed with high probability that the contact method of mercurial treatment was used only in the case of two women from north-central Poland, deceased at the turn of the 15th century at the earliest.


mercurysyphilisla-icp-ms techniquehistorical bone