Investigating the relationship between Arsenic pollution and social crises in etruscan civilization: was Arsenic poisoning a concomitant cause?

Ilenia Cattani, J. M. Turfa, A. P. Harrison, Massimo Cagnin, Gian Maria Beone, C. Gonnelli, Raffaella Boccelli

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contribution


Since the Etruscan Iron Age (8th–6th centuries BC), southern Tuscany (Italy) has been characterized by intensive mining and smelting activity, resulting in a significant release of arsenic to the environment. In a previous work, Harrison et al. (2010) hypothesized that industrial pollution and arsenic poisoning might actually have stimulated, among other related events, social crises in Etruscan civilisation and the peaceful abandonment of several important settlements which occurred, during and at the end of the Archaic period, in sites such as Lago dell’Accesa, Acquarossa and Poggio Civitate-Murlo. However, the X-ray fluorescence analysis of a hair sample from a Faliscan woman (c. 350 BC), did not allow a thoroughly satisfactory demonstration of this hypothesis, most probably because women buried in chamber tombs were not exposed to high levels of arsenic in life, or arsenic concentration in the tested hairs did not exceed the instrumental detection limit. Rasmussen et al. (2009) found a very high concentration of arsenic in Danish and Swedish Mesolithic and Neolithic human bones and discussed the origin of this contamination. In the present study, we analysed the arsenic concentration of bones, soil and other environmental samples from Lago dell’Accesa site, to discuss further the phenomenon of toxic exposure among ancient Etruscans and to exclude bone diagenesis as a possible source of arsenic in human remains. We used both ED(P)-XRF and ICP- (OES and MS) technique, since the former is less sensitive but allows for non-destructive testing, whereas the latter is much more sensitive but necessitates destructive testing.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationabstracts of 4th International Congress Eurosoil 2012
Number of pages1
Publication statusPublished - 2012
Event4th International Congress Eurosoil 2012 - Bari
Duration: 2 Jul 20126 Jul 2012


Conference4th International Congress Eurosoil 2012


  • Arsenic


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