Environmental legacy of copper metallurgy and mongol silver smelting recorded in yunnan lake sediments

Aubrey L. Hillman, Mark B. Abbott, Junqing Yu, Daniel J. Bain, Tzehuey Chiou-Peng

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

41 Scopus citations

Abstract

Geochemical measurements on well-dated sediment cores from Lake Er (Erhai) are used to determine the timing of changes in metal concentrations over 4500 years in Yunnan, a borderland region in southwestern China noted for rich mineral deposits but with inadequately documented metallurgical history. Our findings add new insight into the impacts and environmental legacy of human exploitation of metal resources in Yunnan history. We observe an increase in copper at 1500 BC resulting from atmospheric emissions associated with metallurgy. These data clarify the chronological issues related to links between the onset of Yunnan metallurgy and the advent of bronze technology in adjacent Southeast Asia, subjects that have been debated for nearly half a century. We also observe an increase from 1100 to 1300 AD in a number of heavy metals including lead, silver, zinc, and cadmium from atmospheric emissions associated with silver smelting. Culminating during the rule of the Mongols, known as the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368 AD), these metal concentrations approach levels three to four times higher than those from industrialized mining activity occurring within the catchment today. Notably, the concentrations of lead approach levels at which harmful effects may be observed in aquatic organisms. The persistence of this lead pollution over time created an environmental legacy that likely contributes to known issues in modern day sediment quality. We demonstrate that historic metallurgical production in Yunnan can cause substantial impacts on the sediment quality of lake systems, similar to other paleolimnological findings around the globe.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3349-3357
Number of pages9
JournalEnvironmental Science and Technology
Volume49
Issue number6
DOIs
StatePublished - Mar 17 2015
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2015 American Chemical Society.

Copyright:
Copyright 2016 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.

Fingerprint Dive into the research topics of 'Environmental legacy of copper metallurgy and mongol silver smelting recorded in yunnan lake sediments'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this