In this reconnaissance study, skeletal materials from people, dating from ~1500 B.P., who lived by or worked at the ancient copper mines and furnaces of the Wadi Faynan in southern Jordan, were analysed using atomic absorption spectrophotometry (AAS) to determine the intensities of accumulation of copper and lead in their bones. Many of the bones analysed contained concentrations of these metals which are comparable to those of modern individuals who are heavily exposed to metals through contemporary industrial processes.
Patterns of partitioning throughout the skeleton of a number of individuals were also studied. These AAS data suggest that within the human organism there may be some ability to influence the patterns of accumulation of copper within the skeleton. The humerus was frequently found to contain more copper than other bones studied. Within the humerus itself, the medial epicondyle frequently contained the highest concentrations, which may indicate a significant degree of organization or control of the process. These metal concentration data together with their toxicological consequences suggest that the health of the ancient human populations must have been adversely affected by exposure during life to copper in the environment. They also point to the need for further detailed studies of metal partitioning within the bones of the human skeleton.