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

Jack Longman, Daniel Veres, Walter Finsinger, Vasile Ersek

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40 Citations (Scopus)
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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 for the first time a clear indication of 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 (c.3600 yr 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 circa 1600 CE is observed, documenting the development in both sophistication and extent of southeastern European metallurgical activity throughout Antiquity and the Medieval Period. This provides a new 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 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 5600 years.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)E5661-E5668
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number25
Early online date29 May 2018
Publication statusPublished - 19 Jun 2018


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