The advent of metal processing was one of the key technological evolutions presaging the development of modern society. However, the interplay between metal use and the long-term changes it induced in the development and functioning of past societies remains unclear. We present a compilation of global records of anthropogenic atmospheric lead (Pb) spanning the last 4000 years, an effective indirect proxy for reliably assessing Pb emissions directly linked to human activities. Separating this global Pb pollution signal into regionally representative clusters allows identification of regional differences in pollution output that reflect technological innovations, market demands, or demise of various human cultures for last 4000 years. Our European reconstruction traces well periods of intensive metal production such as the Roman and Medieval periods, in contrast to clusters from the Americas, which show low levels of atmospheric Pb until the Industrial Revolution. Further investigation of the European synthesis results displays clear regional variation in the timing and extent of past development of polluting activities. This indicates the challenges of using individual reconstructions to infer regional or global development in Pb output and related pollution.