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Lead in teeth holds secrets of person's origins, research shows

By Barbara Liston

ORLANDO Fla. (Reuters) - The lead in human teeth holds clues about where a person grew up and can help criminal investigators and archaeologists working with old or decomposed corpses, according to a University of Florida researcher.

Because lead ore deposits around the world differ, and as young people's teeth absorb traces of the metal in the environment, the region where a person grew up can be distinguished through lead analysis of a tooth, said geologist George Kamenov.

His study on the topic will appear in the August issue of Science of The Total Environment, a peer-reviewed journal.

"If you were born in Europe and then came to the U.S., yes, I will be able to see that," Kamenov said. "I was born in Bulgaria so I have the European ... signal."

Kamenov said he has worked with law enforcement officers on cold cases, with lead analysis helping investigators narrow their focus.

In addition to aiding authorities in identifying bodies, the analysis can help archaeologists locate human remains on an historical timeline, he said.

The impact of leaded gasoline used from the 1920s through 1980s is also reflected in the teeth, which can help narrow a body's age, Kamenov said.

Teeth can reveal whether a person spent formative years in the United States versus Europe, South America, Australia or other broad regions, he said.

Beyond lead, Kamenov said that analysis of oxygen in bones, which regenerate every seven to 10 years, can pinpoint where a person spent the past decade. Other chemical elements in hair and nails provide information about the person's location over the previous several months, he said.

(Reporting by Barbara Liston; Editing by Jonathan Kaminsky and Sandra Maler)

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