Romans using 'poisonous' lead pipes 200 years earlier

One of the most impressive achievements of the Roman Empire - with its powerful armies, ambitious architectural feats and impressive reach - was its plumbing system.

The ability to bring fresh water to people in cities from hundreds of miles away helped thousands of ancient Romans, and it still remains controversial whether or not lead in the pipes was the cause of their downfall.

But thanks to a new study, we now know the Romans started using lead in their pipes much earlier than we first thought. 

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Ancient Roman lead pipes found in Ostia Antica. The ability to bring fresh water to people in cities from hundreds of miles away helped thousands of ancient Romans, and it still remains controversial whether or not lead in the pipes was the cause of their downfall

Ancient Roman lead pipes found in Ostia Antica. The ability to bring fresh water to people in cities from hundreds of miles away helped thousands of ancient Romans, and it still remains controversial whether or not lead in the pipes was the cause of their downfall

ROMAN LEAD PIPES

The ability to bring fresh water to people in cities from hundreds of miles away helped thousands of ancient Romans, and it still remains controversial whether or not lead in the pipes was the cause of their downfall.

But thanks to a new study, we now know the Romans started using lead in their pipes much earlier than we first thought.

Examining the lead in the soil, the team found that in Ostia there was a sudden influx of lead in 200 BC, around the same time ’s expansion began.

Previous evidence of lead pipes only dated back to 11 BC, meaning the new evidence shows ancient used lead almost 200 years earlier than we thought.

An archaeologist at the National Center for Scientific Research in France, Dr Hugo Delile led a study into the lead content in soil cores taken from two harbours in .

These harbours, called Ostia and Portus, would have been the end of journey for some of the water running through the lead pipes, after it was disposed of into the Tiber River.

In the new paper, the team describe how water inside these pipes would pick up lead particles.

When the water reached the harbour, the lead would sink, and this would create layers of the toxic compound in the soil.

Examining the lead in the soil, the team found that in Ostia there was a sudden influx of lead in 200 BC, around the same time ’s expansion began.

Previous evidence of lead pipes only dated back to 11 BC, meaning the new evidence shows ancient used lead almost 200 years earlier than we thought.

Then study also showed the lead levels dropped by about 50 per cent during a civil war in the first century BC, before increasing again. 

‘ [Augustus']... progressive defeat of his rivals during the 30s BCE allowed his future son-in-law, Agrippa, to take control of 's water supply by 33 BCE,’ the authors say.

Pictured are Ostia Antica ruins, near Rome, Italy. Examining the lead in the soil, the team found that in Ostia there was a sudden influx of lead in 200 BC, around the same time Rome’s expansion began

Pictured are Ostia Antica ruins, near , . Examining the lead in the soil, the team found that in Ostia there was a sudden influx of lead in 200 BC, around the same time ’s expansion began

The House of Diana in the port of Ostia, made up of apartments with shops on the ground floor, 2nd century. Examining the lead in the soil, the team found that in Ostia there was a sudden influx of lead in 200 BC, around the same time Rome’s expansion began

The House of Diana in the port of Ostia, made up of apartments with shops on the ground floor, 2nd century. Examining the lead in the soil, the team found that in Ostia there was a sudden influx of lead in 200 BC, around the same time ’s

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