Honey as an indicator of long-term environmental changes: MP-AES analysis coupled with 14C-based age determination of Hungarian honey samples

Tamás Varga, Zsófi Sajtos, Zita Gajdos, A. J.Timothy Jull, Mihály Molnár, Edina Baranyai

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations


Several studies show that the elemental content of honey entirely depends on the botanical and geographical origin, but the information is incomplete regarding its time-dependent composition changes. Twenty-six acacia and three honey samples with unknown botanical origin were collected between 1958 and 2018 and analysed for elemental composition by Microwave Plasma Atomic Emission Spectrometry (MP-AES). The elemental analysis was coupled with independent dating method by Accelerator Mass Spectrometry (AMS) to confirm the calendar age of the honey samples and test the possibility of radiocarbon based dating of bee products, which has not been applied before. According to the analytical measurements and statistical analysis, we can conclude that the elemental composition shows change with time in the acacia honey during the last five decades. We have proven that honey preserves carbon isotopic and elemental information of its production time and thus can be applied as an environmental indicator (e.g. trace urban pollutants, precipitation, local industrial or agricultural emission) in reconstruction studies by analysing the non-degradable mineral content. Our results further show that acacia honey is a suitable material for radiocarbon dating, proved by the results compared to the atmospheric radiocarbon bomb-peak. The new approach presented for investigation of honey by radiocarbon-based age determination coupled with elemental analysis can be used in biological, dietary, archaeological or other multidisciplinary studies as well. Some samples show slightly depleted radiocarbon content. This could be an indication of local fossil CO2 emission. Based on these depleted 14C results, honey could be used for atmospheric monitoring of fossil CO2 urban or industrial hot-spots.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number139686
JournalScience of the Total Environment
StatePublished - Sep 20 2020


  • AMS
  • Element content
  • Honey
  • MP-AES
  • Radiocarbon dating

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Engineering
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Pollution


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