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Zinc as a Paleodietary Indicator: An Issue of Theoretical Validity in Bone-Chemistry Analysis

  • Joseph A. Ezzo (a1)

The use of the concentrations of zinc in archaeological bone as an indicator of past diets and/or health conditions has become widely accepted in bone-chemistry analysis, despite the fact that the theoretical validity for such an application has not been established. In this paper I present a series of critical variables—such as elemental metabolism, bone physiology, the relationship between dietary intakes of an element and its concentration in bone, trophic-level separation in the foodweb, and diagenetic variability—that must be addressed in the process of theoretical validation. I also discuss how studies that support the use of zinc as paleodietary indicator have generally focused on only one or perhaps two of these criteria. Until a sound model based on physiological principles is developed, the use of zinc as a paleodietary indicator remains unproven.


El uso de concentraciones de zinc en huesos arqueológicos como indicadores de dieta y/o condiciones de salud prehistóricas ha sido ampliamente aceptado en el análisis de la química de hueso, a pesar de que la validez teórica de esta aplicación aún no se ha establecido. En este artículo presento una serie de variables críticas—tales como metabolismo elemental, fisiología ósea, la relación entre la consumición de un elemento y su concentración en los huesos, el nivel de separación en la cadena trófica, y variabilidad diagenética—que deben ser discutidas en el proceso de validación teórica. También discuto cómo los estudios que apoyan el uso del zinc como indicador paleodietético generalmente se han enfocado en sólo uno o quizás dos de estos criterios. Mientras no se desarrolle un modelo sólido basado en principios fisiológicos, el uso del zinc como indicador paleodietético continuará sin ser demostrado.

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