Excavated and contemporary bones (rib cortexes) of a mature age (40-60 yr) were analyzed by atomic absorption spectrometry for the concentration of seven elements, including Ca, Cd, Cu, Fe, Mn, Ni, and Pb, with a view to historically evaluating the chemical composition of the bones. Fifty-two well-preserved specimens, obtained from western Japan, were classified into six groups according to Japanese prehistoric and historic eras (Jomon, Yayoi, Kofun, Muromachi, Edo, and Contemporary). Average concentrations of Ca were 0.20-0.33 g/g in the excavated bones and 0.17 g/g in the contemporary bones. Among the trace metals, such as Cu, Fe, Mn, and Pb, which showed remarkably elevated concentrations in the Edo era bones, Cu, Fe, and Mn were found to be strongly associated with soil contamination. Lead levels only slightly increased between the Jomon and Kofun eras, but became abruptly elevated following the Edo era. In contrast, the concentrations of Cd increased abruptly in the Yayoi era to a level with an order of magnitude higher than the Edo era, and they have recently decreased to rather low contemporary levels. This tendency becomes clearer when comparing the molar ratio of trace metals to Ca. The cause of elevated Cd concentrations in early excavated bones is discussed in relation to the mineralization of bones and the surrounding environment.
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