Our ancestors began refining metals roughly five millennia ago. However, our ancestors have physically interacted with particles of lead byproducts by inhaling, ingesting, or absorbing them.
A recent study of ancient human remains buried at a site in Rome used persistently for over twelve millennia, and another site on the Sardinia island has just revealed a tie between the evolution of mining/smelting and lead pollution.
According to the researchers, the ebbs and flows of lead production across the globe can be observed in the bones of people buried in central Italy.
Individuals who weren’t even remotely involved in activities like smelting or mining still presented traces of lead particles in their bodies.
Right from the start, the pollutant seems to have spread in the environment.
As a Roman, all you had to do to get contaminated was breathe the air, drink the water and eat the local food to have lead progressively build up in your organism, especially in the kidneys, liver, and bones.
Yigal Earls, a geologist of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in Israel, said:
“This documentation of lead pollution throughout human history indicates that, remarkably, much of the estimated dynamics in lead production is replicated in human exposure. Simply put: the more lead we produce, the more people are likely to be absorbing it into their bodies. This has a highly toxic effect.”
Unfortunately for us, nearly all systems of the human body can suffer from lead poisoning.
Even small quantities of lead in the body can have fatal consequences as they can cumulate over time and provoke neurocognitive issues, organ damage, plus reproductive problems in the long run.
Curiously, Romans were aware of that, but gold, silver, and lead were too useful for the civilizations of the time to ignore.
Lead was used for plumbing, which, when you look at it from the perspective of a 21st-century human, doesn’t seem like much of a bright idea.
However, coin production began 2,500 years ago in the Roman society, and it was around that time when lead usage sky-rocketed.
The study analyzed the bones of 132 individuals laid to rest between 12,000 BCE and the 17th century, and an increase in lead pollution was discovered, perfectly on par with the increase of worldwide lead production throughout history.
A grim prediction suggests that we will experience an increase of over 1,000 percent in demand for lead, cobalt, and nickel, as demand for electronics, solar panels, batteries, and wind turbines is on the rise to help temper climate change.