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Exceptionally high levels of lead pollution in the Balkans from the Early Bronze Age to the Industrial Revolution

Exceptionally high levels of lead pollution in the Balkans from the Early Bronze Age to the Industrial Revolution
Exceptionally high levels of lead pollution in the Balkans from the Early Bronze Age to the Industrial Revolution

The Balkans are considered the birthplace of mineral resource exploitation and metalworking in Europe. However, since knowledge of the timing and extent of metallurgy in southeastern Europe is largely constrained by discontinuous archaeological findings, the long-term environmental impact of past mineral resource exploitation is not fully understood. Here, we present a high-resolution and continuous geochemical record from a peat bog in western Serbia, providing a clear indication of the extent and magnitude of environmental pollution in this region, and a context in which to place archaeological findings. We observe initial evidence of anthropogenic lead (Pb) pollution during the earliest part of the Bronze Age [∼3,600 years before Common Era (BCE)], the earliest such evidence documented in European environmental records. A steady, almost linear increase in Pb concentration after 600 BCE, until ∼1,600 CE is observed, documenting the development in both sophistication and extent of southeastern European metallurgical activity throughout Antiquity and the medieval period. This provides an alternative view on the history of mineral exploitation in Europe, with metal-related pollution not ceasing at the fall of the western Roman Empire, as was the case in western Europe. Further comparison with other Pb pollution records indicates the amount of Pb deposited in the Balkans during the medieval period was, if not greater, at least similar to records located close to western European mining regions, suggestive of the key role the Balkans have played in mineral resource exploitation in Europe over the last 5,600 years.

Balkans, Lead pollution, Medieval, Metal resources, Peat bog
0027-8424
E5661-E5668
Longman, Jack
26a3c4e3-79d6-4102-9708-a5b02b97121d
Veres, Daniel
67b7de50-1043-4bfb-a5df-bc87feeefc63
Finsinger, Walter
3092724e-9888-4f8d-8b80-2ae6ecf179d1
Ersek, Vasile
d6247272-dbeb-4449-9eca-bb1a4a75a9ca
Longman, Jack
26a3c4e3-79d6-4102-9708-a5b02b97121d
Veres, Daniel
67b7de50-1043-4bfb-a5df-bc87feeefc63
Finsinger, Walter
3092724e-9888-4f8d-8b80-2ae6ecf179d1
Ersek, Vasile
d6247272-dbeb-4449-9eca-bb1a4a75a9ca

Longman, Jack, Veres, Daniel, Finsinger, Walter and Ersek, Vasile (2018) Exceptionally high levels of lead pollution in the Balkans from the Early Bronze Age to the Industrial Revolution. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 115 (25), E5661-E5668. (doi:10.1073/pnas.1721546115).

Record type: Article

Abstract

The Balkans are considered the birthplace of mineral resource exploitation and metalworking in Europe. However, since knowledge of the timing and extent of metallurgy in southeastern Europe is largely constrained by discontinuous archaeological findings, the long-term environmental impact of past mineral resource exploitation is not fully understood. Here, we present a high-resolution and continuous geochemical record from a peat bog in western Serbia, providing a clear indication of the extent and magnitude of environmental pollution in this region, and a context in which to place archaeological findings. We observe initial evidence of anthropogenic lead (Pb) pollution during the earliest part of the Bronze Age [∼3,600 years before Common Era (BCE)], the earliest such evidence documented in European environmental records. A steady, almost linear increase in Pb concentration after 600 BCE, until ∼1,600 CE is observed, documenting the development in both sophistication and extent of southeastern European metallurgical activity throughout Antiquity and the medieval period. This provides an alternative view on the history of mineral exploitation in Europe, with metal-related pollution not ceasing at the fall of the western Roman Empire, as was the case in western Europe. Further comparison with other Pb pollution records indicates the amount of Pb deposited in the Balkans during the medieval period was, if not greater, at least similar to records located close to western European mining regions, suggestive of the key role the Balkans have played in mineral resource exploitation in Europe over the last 5,600 years.

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More information

e-pub ahead of print date: 29 May 2018
Published date: 19 June 2018
Keywords: Balkans, Lead pollution, Medieval, Metal resources, Peat bog

Identifiers

Local EPrints ID: 423357
URI: http://eprints.soton.ac.uk/id/eprint/423357
ISSN: 0027-8424
PURE UUID: f48cb1dc-0dc8-4ec9-95fb-9940c37949d1

Catalogue record

Date deposited: 20 Sep 2018 16:30
Last modified: 07 Oct 2020 01:04

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