Hair methylmercury levels of mummies of the Aleutian Islands, Alaska

G M Egeland, Rafael Ponce, Nicolas S Bloom, Rick Knecht, Stephen Loring, John P Middaugh

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19 Citations (Scopus)


Ancient human hair specimens can shed light on the extent of pre-historic exposures to methylmercury and provide valuable comparison data with current-day exposures, particularly for Indigenous Peoples who continue to rely upon local traditional food resources.

Human hair from ancient AleutianIsland Native remains were tested for total and methylmercury (Hg, MeHg) and were radiocarbon dated. The remains were approximately 500 years old (1450 A.D.). For four adults, the mean and median total hair mercury concentration was 5.8 ppm (SD=0.9). In contrast, MeHg concentrations were lower with a mean of 1.2 ppm (SD=1.8) and a median of 0.54 ppm (0.12–3.86). For the five infants, the mean and median MeHg level was 1.2 ppm (SD=1.8) and 0.20 ppm (0.007–4.61), respectively. Segmental analyses showed variations in MeHg concentrations in 1-cm segments, consistent with fluctuations in naturally occurring exposure to mercury through dietary sources. The levels are comparable to or lower than those found in fish and marine mammal-eating populations today who rely far less on subsistence food than pre-historic humans. The findings are, therefore, compatible with increased anthropogenic release of trace metals during the past several centuries.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)281-286
Number of pages6
JournalEnvironmental Research
Issue number3
Early online date4 Feb 2009
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2009


  • indigenous peoples
  • hair
  • mercury
  • pre-historic


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