Scientists have discovered some 5000 years old human bones. In which high levels of mercury have been found. Experts say that this is the oldest evidence of mercury poisoning. Bones that have been discovered in Spain and Portugal belong to 370 individuals. These people were alive during the Neolithic or Copper Age. High levels of mercury have been found in the bodies of people between 2900 and 2600 BC.
A team of scientists led by the University of North Carolina Wilmington has concluded the mystery of poisoning humans. Scientists claim that due to contact with cinnabar, poison reached the human body. Cinnabar is a mercury sulfide mineral that forms naturally in thermal and volcanic regions around the world. When crushed, it turns into a red powder.
Used as paint and drugs
Historically, this powder was used to make pigments in paints. Apart from this, it was also consumed as ‘magic’ drugs. Researchers share in a study published in the International Journal of Osteoarchaeology that the use of cinnabar as a pigment, paint or drug in Iberia began in the Paleolithic period and gradually intensified in the Neolithic and Chalcolithic ages.
Death due to smelling of powder
The research is based on 370 human bones collected from 50 tombs located in 23 archaeological sites across Spain and Portugal. According to the researchers, the dead may have accidentally inhaled or consumed the powder. Due to which the level of mercury in his bones had increased abnormally. Of these, levels of up to 400 parts per million (ppm) have been recorded in the bones of some individuals.
What should be the mercury level?
The level of mercury in ancient bones can be estimated from the standard of the World Health Organization. The WHO currently considers that the normal level of mercury in hair should not exceed 1 or 2 ppm. The use of Almaden cinnabar dates back to 7000 years ago in the Neolithic period. But at the beginning of the Copper Age, this mineral made an important place in the society. The tombs built in ancient times were painted with cinnabar itself.