Archaeologists reveal how lead poisoning affected the Roman Empire

Archaeologists investigate lead production and use in the Roman Empire to determine how it affected and could have poisoned the Roman society.

Excavations at Vagnari (by University of Sheffield)
The first study to investigate lead production and use in the Roman Empire, using archaeological and skeletal evidence from a specific site in Roman Italy is led by Maureen Carroll from the University of Sheffield’s Department of Archaeology and Tracy Prowse from Canadian McMaster University. Lead was a valuable and abundant commodity in the Roman Empire, with many uses that are described in ancient written sources and through the recovery of artefacts from archaeological sites. It was used in aqueducts, water pipes, household implements, and medicine, hence the toxicity of lead has led to claims by modern authors that lead poisoning caused the fall of the Roman Empire. However, until now the actual production, use, and physical effects of this material on human health have not been widely studied for the Roman period. The team of researchers is investigating the archaeological evidence for lead production and use at a Roman rural estate in Vagnari, Italy, along with the physical remains of Romans who were exposed to lead on a regular basis. Vagnari was the site of a rural estate which Roman emperors used as a source of revenue through agriculture and industry. Its inhabitants were of varying social status, from slaves to free-born, and from local workers to immigrant labourers and tenants, so this research will give us an important insight into lead production and exposure among different tiers of Roman society.
(after University of Sheffield & PhysOrg)

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