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Title: Earliest evidence of pollution by heavy metals in archaeological sites
Authors: Monge Gómez, Guadalupe
Jiménez Espejo, Francisco José
García-Alix Daroca, Antonio
Martínez Ruiz, Francisca
Mattielli, Nadine
Finlayson, Clive
Ohkouchi, Naohiko
Cortés Sánchez, Miguel
Bermúdez de Castro, José María
Blasco, Ruth
Rosell, Jordi
Carrión García, José Sebastián
Rodríguez Vidal, Joaquín
Finlayson, Geraldine
Keywords: Archaeology;Environmental chemistry;Geochemistry;Palaeontology
Issue Date: Sep-2015
Publisher: Nature Publishing Group
Citation: Scientific Reports, 2015, 5: 14252
Abstract: Homo species were exposed to a new biogeochemical environment when they began to occupy caves. Here we report the first evidence of palaeopollution through geochemical analyses of heavy metals in four renowned archaeological caves of the Iberian Peninsula spanning the last million years of human evolution. Heavy metal contents reached high values due to natural (guano deposition) and anthropogenic factors (e.g. combustion) in restricted cave environments. The earliest anthropogenic pollution evidence is related to Neanderthal hearths from Gorham's Cave (Gibraltar), being one of the first milestones in the so-called “Anthropocene”. According to its heavy metal concentration, these sediments meet the present-day standards of “contaminated soil”. Together with the former, the Gibraltar Vanguard Cave, shows Zn and Cu pollution ubiquitous across highly anthropic levels pointing to these elements as potential proxies for human activities. Pb concentrations in Magdalenian and Bronze age levels at El Pirulejo site can be similarly interpreted. Despite these high pollution levels, the contaminated soils might not have posed a major threat to Homo populations. Altogether, the data presented here indicate a long-term exposure of Homo to these elements, via fires, fumes and their ashes, which could have played certain role in environmental-pollution tolerance, a hitherto neglected influence.
ISSN: 2045-2322
DOI: 10.1038/srep14252
Type: Article
Appears in Collections:Paleobiología

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