X-ray fluorescence spectrometry; Altun Ha; bioarchaeology; trace element analysis; strontium; bromine


In anthropology, elemental analysis of bone and teeth can provide significant details about an individual’s life history, such as diet, toxicity exposure, residency, and migration patterns. Intra-individual comparisons can help to gather information about a single individual’s life, while inter-individual comparisons can help illustrate a community’s life history during these periods. However, current methods of elemental analysis commonly involve the destruction of skeletal samples, which can damage a collection’s integrity and be perceived as disrespectful by descendant communities. Preliminary research has validated handheld x-ray fluorescence spectrometry (HHXRF) as an accurate and reliable method of analysis appropriate for determining the elemental composition of archaeological bone and teeth. In this study, teeth from 16 individuals (N=16) from the pre-conquest Classic Period (AD 625-1100) Maya site of Altun Ha, Belize, were analyzed using HHXRF to identify trace elements to gain a better understanding of the lives of the individuals and community. This study expands upon preliminary research by increasing the sample size and utilizes a filter to increase sensitivity to elements of interest. Diet and mobility were assessed using calcium (Ca), strontium (Sr), and bromine (Br) ratios. Net photon counts per element of interest were extracted and converted into ratios. An inter- and intra-individual comparison model was used. Results of calculated Sr/Ca ratios show a general increased reliance on marine subsistence sources within the sample. Shifts that do not align with this trend are present in several individuals, indicating social complexity of Altun Ha. Results of Br/Ca ratios are less clear in regard to diet and warrant further investigation.

Thesis Completion Year


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Thesis Chair

Williams, Lana


College of Sciences



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Open Access

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Orlando (Main) Campus



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In Copyright