We tend to associate industrial pollution with the modern era, but human civilisations have been contaminating the planet for thousands of years.
By drilling deep into Greenland’s ice sheet, an interdisciplinary team of researchers has chronicled the industrial waste produced by the ancient Greeks and Romans over a 1,900-year period, linking pollution to economic booms, wars, and even plagues.
An indelible aspect of the ancient Greek and Roman economies involved the mining and smelting of lead and silver ores.
The resulting emissions drifted up into the atmosphere, travelled thousands of miles, and eventually settled onto Greenland’s frozen surface.
In a cyclical process that lasted for centuries, snow and ice covered this lead pollution, creating numerous sedimentary layers, and by consequence, a geological record extending for hundreds of feet into the ice.
Armed with the assumption that these layers of lead could be read like a history book, archaeologists, economists, and historians from the Desert Research Institute (DRI), the University of Oxford, and other institutions, analysed a 1,390-foot-long (423 metres) ice sample taken from the North Greenland Ice Core Project (NGRIP).