Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Lead and the Dark Ages

Interesting graph showing the concentration of lead in ice cores from Greenland. All that lead got into the air from lead mining and smelting, so the the general conclusion is that in the classical world lead production was vastly higher than it was in the Middle Ages. This is mainly the Roman empire we are talking about, since lead was less important in China. Lead is obviously not a perfect indicator for a diverse economy, and perhaps the Romans used lead for things that medieval people (like the Chinese) did in other ways. But it certainly shows that some economically fundamental things were very different in the Middle Ages than they had been in the Roman world.It also provides more evidence that not until the 1600s or even the 1700s did the European economy again match what it had been in Roman times.

1 comment:

G. Verloren said...

I'd be interested to see a breakdown of Roman lead usage.

I imagine a sizeable chunk of it went into sling bullets for the legions, but presumably another big user would probably have been tableware? Of course the most famous usage was in pipes and plumbing, but I wonder what other uses they might have put it to? Low value coins, I'd imagine? Cheap jewelery? Lead paint, obviously, since the Greeks used it first...