Lake sediments record prehistoric lead pollution related to early copper production in North America

David P. Pompeani, Mark B. Abbott, Byron A. Steinman, Daniel J. Bain

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

39 Scopus citations

Abstract

The mining and use of copper by prehistoric people on Michigan's Keweenaw Peninsula is one of the oldest examples of metalworking. We analyzed the concentration of lead, titanium, magnesium, iron, and organic matter in sediment cores recovered from three lakes located near mine pits to investigate the timing, location, and magnitude of ancient copper mining pollution. Lead concentrations were normalized to lithogenic metals and organic matter to account for processes that can influence natural (or background) lead delivery. Nearly simultaneous lead enrichments occurred at Lake Manganese and Copper Falls Lake ∼8000 and 7000 years before present (yr BP), indicating that copper extraction occurred concurrently in at least two locations on the peninsula. The poor temporal coherence among the lead enrichments from ∼6300 to 5000 yr BP at each lake suggests that the focus of copper mining and annealing shifted through time. In sediment younger than ∼5000 yr BP, lead concentrations remain at background levels at all three lakes, excluding historic lead increases starting ∼150 yr BP. Our work demonstrates that lead emissions associated with both the historic and Old Copper Complex tradition are detectable and can be used to determine the temporal and geographic pattern of metal pollution.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)5545-5552
Number of pages8
JournalEnvironmental Science and Technology
Volume47
Issue number11
DOIs
StatePublished - Jun 4 2013

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