Earliest evidence of pollution by heavy metals in archaeological sites
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AuthorMonge Gómez, Guadalupe; Jiménez-Espejo, Francisco José; García-Alix, Antonio; Martínez-Ruiz, Francisca; Mattielli, Nadine; Finlayson, Clive; Ohkouchi, Naohiko; Cortés Sánchez, Miguel; Bermúdez de Castro, Jose María; Blasco, R.; Rosell, Jordi; Carrión, José S.; Rodríguez-Vidal, Joaquín; Finlayson, Geraldine
Monge Gómez, G.; et al. Earliest evidence of pollution by heavy metals in archaeological sites. Scientific Reports, 5: 14252 (2015). http://hdl.handle.net/10481/49208
SponsorshipFrancisco J. Jiménez Palacios and to the Analytical Chemistry Department (Sevilla University) are gratefully acknowledged for their help in the use of Carbolite electric oven. A.G.-A. was supported by a Marie Curie Intra-European Fellowship of the 7th Framework Programme for Research, Technological Development and Demonstration (European Commission). R.B. is a Beatriu de Pinós-A post-doctoral fellowship recipient (Generalitat de Catalunya and COFUND Marie Curie Actions, EU-FP7). This work also was partially financed by projects 19434/PI/14 Fundación Séneca, HARP2013-44269P, CGL-BOS-2012-34717, CGL2012-38434-C03-03 and CGL2012-38358 Ministerio de Economía y Competitividad, 2014 SGR 900 and 2014/100573 Generalitat de Catalunya-AGAUR, RNM 432 Research Group 179 (Junta de Andalucia) and MEXT-Japan.
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.