Analyzes performed on the teeth of two Neanderthal children from the archaeological site of Payre (Ardèche) and excavated by Marie-Hélène Moncel, CNRS researcher, attest to the oldest exposure to lead in humans. An international team of researchers measured the metal levels in the enamel of these teeth, dating back around 250,000 years, and showed that both children had been exposed to lead during their stays in cavities as suggested by the presence of lead mines within a radius of 25 kilometers. With teeth growing at the same rate as tree rings, researchers were able to show that children became ill during the cold season, and that one of the Neanderthals was born in the spring. By measuring barium concentrations, a marker of milk consumption, the researchers also found that one of the two children had been breastfed for up to two and a half years, and weaned in the fall. The study published on October 31, 2018 in Science Advances is a major contribution to Neanderthal childhood knowledge.
Photograph of one of the teeth of the Neanderthal children. © Smith et al.
Wintertime Stress, Nursing, and Lead Exposure in Neanderthal Children. Tanya M. Smith, Christine Austin, Daniel R. Green, Renaud Joannes-Boyau, Shara Bailey, Dani Dumitriu, Stewart Fallon, Rainer Grün, Hannah F. James, Marie-Hélène Moncel, Ian Williams, Rachel Wood, Manish Arora. October 31st, 2018, Science Advances. DOI : 10.1126/sciadv.aau9483