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People from the Middle Ages Suffered Retardation Due to Lead Poisoning

Plamena M.Plamena M.

Chemical analysis of archaeological evidence from the Middle Ages reveals that people back then suffered from a wide range of diseases and mental derangement - all the result of continual lead poisoning.

During the Middle Ages, everyone ate out of the incredibly convenient clay pots and dishes. But their glaze contained ample amounts of lead, which got into the body through the food. The populace suffered chronic lead poisoning, which in turn led to the development of a number of diseases and retardation.

People of the Middle Ages used their glazed clay containers throughout the day. They were beautiful, easy to wash and easy to use. And it was this beautiful outer coating that contained lead oxide, which was released when it came into contact with salty and sour food, eventually ending up in the body.

Lead poisoning devastates the human central nervous system and digestion. It leads to stomach pains, anemia, memory loss and speech impediment. High doses of lead cause retardation in children.

Scientists have taken samples from 207 skeletons from 6 cemeteries in Denmark and North Germany, dating back to the Middle Ages. In all of the samples they registered lead quantities much higher than what is considered normal.

The lead in the bodies of people living in the Middle Age did not come solely from food. At that time, they often used the water collected from roof tiles, which also had lead, for drinking water. Other sources were stained glass and coins.

It turned out however, that high levels of lead were not found out in the villages. This is explained by the fact that villagers rarely used glazed containers, while lead was not used in roof construction.

Further, high levels of mercury were not registered in the villagers, as opposed to the inhabitants of Medieval Denmark and Germany. During the Middle Ages, mercury was used to treat leprosy but only the wealthier people from the cities could afford it. Half of the analyzed skeletons showed increased levels of mercury.