I dug into the history of classroom skeletons and found that many came from India. In the 1800s, the country had a legal bone trade, selling the bones of poor people for medical study. Is that how my school skeleton got to America? It turns out, bones hold clues about where they’re from in their atoms. These particles are the smallest units of elements and make up everything, including us.
Diet, in part, determines what elements are found in a person’s bones, says Doug Kennett, an archaeologist at Penn State University. “There’s an old adage: ‘You are what you eat,’” he says. In places where people eat a lot of corn, like in parts of the U.S., bones have a particular chemical signature. But if you live in a coastal region, where people eat a lot of seafood, or in Central Asia, where people eat a lot of rice, your bones have different signatures (see Bone Chemistry).