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The eruption of the Laacher See volcano (~13,000 years BP) and possible fluoride poisoning amongst contemporaneous wildlife and human foragers—Outline of a hypothesis and the way to test it

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At about 13,000 calendar years before present (BP) the Laacher See volcano, located in present-day western Germany, erupted catastrophically. It has been argued that this eruption and its attendant ash fallout played a causal role in the demographic and cultural change documented archaeologically amongst contemporaneous human hunter?gatherer populations in northern Europe. The population displacement and subsequent changes in material culture are clearly visible in the archaeological record, especially in southern Scandinavia. A particular challenge to this scenario is the apparently paradoxical proposition that the effects of the Laacher See volcanic eruption became more pronounced with distance from the volcano itself. There are, however, several documented detrimental health effects of volcanic eruptions that, owing to the physical properties of the ash fallout, actually do become more severe with distance from the eruptive centre. Volcanic eruptions introduce large amounts of chemicals into the atmosphere and deposit these, via ash fallout, in the environment. Here, we explore the hypothesis that the deposition of tephra with a high fluoride content contributed to making the landscapes affected by Laacher See ash fallout unsuitable for wildlife and humans. We briefly describe the possible fate of the fluoride released by the Laacher See volcanic eruption and its potential effects on northern European ecosystems with particular attention to impact pathways from wildlife to humans and to humans directly. Finally, we outline possible avenues of empirically investigating fluoride toxicosis in wildlife, especially large mammalian herbivores, following this volcanic event.
Original languageEnglish
JournalInternational Journal of Osteoarchaeology
Pages (from-to)855-871
Number of pages17
Publication statusPublished - 2020

    Research areas

  • dental fluorosis, fluoride toxicosis, Laacher See, skeletal fluorosis, volcanism, wildlife toxicology

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