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Could the Health Decline of Prehistoric California Indians be Related to Exposure to Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs) from Natural Bitumen?
Stockholm University, Faculty of Science, Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics.
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2011 (English)In: Journal of Environmental Health Perspectives, ISSN 0091-6765, E-ISSN 1552-9924, Vol. 119, no 9, 1203-1207 p.Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

BACKGROUND: The negative health effects of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are well established for modern human populations but have so far not been studied in prehistoric contexts. PAHs are the main component of fossil bitumen, a naturally occurring material used by past societies such as the Chumash Indians in California as an adhesive, as a waterproofing agent, and for medicinal purposes. The rich archaeological and ethnohistoric record of the coastal Chumash suggests that they were exposed to multiple uptake pathways of bituminous PAHs, including direct contact, fume inhalation, and oral uptake from contaminated water and seafood. OBJECTIVES: We investigated the possibility that PAHs from natural bitumen compromised the health of the prehistoric Chumash Indians in California. CONCLUSIONS: Exposure of the ancient Chumash Indians to toxic PAHs appears to have gradually increased across a period of 7,500 years because of an increased use of bitumen in the Chumash technology, together with a dietary shift toward PAH-contaminated marine food. Skeletal analysis indicates a concurrent population health decline that may be related to PAH uptake. However, establishing such a connection is virtually impossible without knowing the actual exposure levels experienced by these populations. Future methodological research may provide techniques for determining PAH levels in ancient skeletal material, which would open new avenues for research on the health of prehistoric populations and on the long-term effects of human PAH exposure.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
2011. Vol. 119, no 9, 1203-1207 p.
Keyword [en]
bioaccumulation, biomarkers exposure, bone and cartilage, cultural practices, diet and nutrition, environmental epidemiology, indigenous peoples, molecular epidemiology, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, population health
National Category
Natural Sciences
URN: urn:nbn:se:su:diva-68029DOI: 10.1289/ehp.1103478ISI: 000294478400017OAI: diva2:471843
authorCount :5Available from: 2012-01-03 Created: 2012-01-02 Last updated: 2012-01-03Bibliographically approved

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Westerholm, Roger
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Department of Biochemistry and BiophysicsDepartment of Analytical Chemistry
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