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Saturday, December 7, 2019
Londinium Romans’ blood lead levels so high they may have lowered birth rates
A team of archaeologists and health scientists has found that lead poisoning could have afflicted city dwellers in Londinium, the Roman settlement on the site of modern London, during the Roman occupation of ancient Britain.1 The levels of lead they found in Londinium Roman bones were so high that they would have exceeded limits considered toxic.
Environmental health scientist Sean Scott of the University of Wisconsin-Madison and colleagues found that lead levels in bones taken from three cemeteries in Londinium may be more than 70 times higher than those in remains from pre-Roman Iron Age Britain. And an analysis of the lead isotope composition fits with that seen previously in Roman-age lead pollution in Britain. The researchers say that the lead levels are high enough to have had a possible effect on health, perhaps even reducing birth rates.
Lead pollution during Roman times has been demonstrated previously,2 but generally has been associated with lead mining. It hasn’t been clear whether serious lead pollution could have afflicted ordinary citizens in Roman urban settlements.