An international team of scientists discovered on the Balkan Peninsula traces of lead contamination dating back to 3600 BC.
According to the researchers, this was the result of the appearance of metallurgy in Europe, which marked the beginning of the Bronze Age in the region. At the same time, Serbia remained a technologically advanced center throughout the Dark Ages and the Middle Ages. This is reported in a press release on Phys.org.
When melting metal from ore, microscopic particles of lead are released into the atmosphere, which are carried by the wind for long distances. When they enter peat bogs, they precipitate, forming layers that reflect the level of development of metallurgy in this or that period of time. So far, the earliest traces of heavy metal contamination were dated 3000 BC and were in the south of Spain.
Scientists conducted a geochemical analysis of samples taken in the peat bog Crveni Potok in Serbia. It turned out that the first signs of lead contamination as a result of human activity appear already 5600 years ago, and after 600 BC and before 1600 AD, a uniform increase in the metal content is observed in peat.
Researchers have identified peak concentrations of lead corresponding to the era of ancient Rome, as well as a relative increase in pollution after the fall of the Roman Empire. The latter indicates that in Serbia they continued to develop metallurgy, using Roman ore smelting techniques.
Previously, it was believed that after the disappearance of ancient Rome, Europeans turned into groups of technologically backward tribes. However, new data show that, at least a part of Europeans retained knowledge about mining up to the end of the Middle Ages.