Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Ghosts of Roman coin minting

TECHNOLOGY WATCH: Greenland ice cores track Roman lead pollution in year-by-year detail. Studying the ice cores may help reconstruct fluctuations in the ancient economy (Kiona N. Smith, Ars Technica).
Lead pollution could provide a proxy for the general state of the Roman economy, but historians would need a detailed record of changes in pollution levels from year to year. That was found 2,500 miles away in the ice sheets of Northern Greenland. Paleoclimatologist Joe McConnell of the Desert Research Institute and his colleagues turned to a 423-meter-long ice core taken by the Northern Greenland Ice Core Project.

The core records nearly 2,000 years of annual ice buildup, from 1100 BCE to 800 CE. Each layer records slightly less than a year’s worth of accumulated ice, which traps other material, like lead from mines and foundries in Europe. McConnell and his colleagues say they’ve dated the layers with an uncertainty of just one or two years, making it easy to compare lead pollution with historical events.
The Punic Wars provide one example of this correlation:
McConnell and his colleagues saw a characteristic pattern around wars throughout Roman history. When conflict came to a mining region, as it did during the three Punic Wars between Rome and Carthage, it disrupted life and work in the region. That shows up as a year or two of slightly cleaner ice in Greenland, since Europe was producing less lead pollution.

At the outbreak of the first Punic War in 264 BCE, for instance, the amount of lead in the Greenland ice layers dropped abruptly. But production ramped up again closer to the final years of the war, as Carthage minted more silver coins to pay its mercenary forces.
Cross-file under Punic Watch and Numismatics (Sort Of).

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