The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Roman history, economics, and climate change in one story

This article in The Atlantic was total Daily Parker bait:

On Monday, scientists announced the discovery of an entirely new resource that has the potential to remake some of those centuries-old arguments over Roman politics and history. A team of archaeologists, historians, and climate scientists have constructed a history of Rome’s lead pollution, which allows them to approximate Mediterranean economic activity from 1,100 BCE to 800 CE. They found it hiding thousands of miles from the Roman Forum: deep in the Greenland Ice Sheet, the enormous, miles-thick plate of ice that entombs the North Atlantic island.

In short, they have reconstructed year-by-year economic data documenting the rise and fall of the Roman Republic and Empire. The first news of the record was published Monday afternoon in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Why does the amount of lead in the atmosphere tell us something about the Roman economy? “It’s a proxy for coin production. That’s the biggest thing,” said Seth Bernard, a professor of ancient history at the University of Toronto. When the Roman government needed to pay for something, it ordered the creation of new silver coins. These coins were produced, in part, in mines on the Iberian peninsula. But these mines didn’t excavate pure silver: Instead, they unearthed an ore of silver, lead, and copper that had to be smelted into silver. This process filled the air with lead pollution.

Will some future civilization chart our rise and fall by specific pollutants caught in Antarctic ice?

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