Scientists have reportedly traced air pollution dating back from the 16th-century Spanish silver mines, inside an ice cap in the Peruvian Andes. It appears that after conquering the Inca Empire, the Spanish wanted to show off their superiority even more by exploiting the inhabitants in silver mines in dire conditions.
The remains have been conserved as residue from the clouds of metallic dust that spewed from the mines and was therefore preserved deep in an ice cap in the Peruvian Andes. The mountaintop mines from Potosí in Bolivia supposedly were the world’s richest silver deposit.
The Incas had the habit of extracting silver long before the Spanish came and introduced a new processing method in 1572. It was supposed to increase production by belching lead dust and other pollutants into the atmosphere. Therefore the pollution eventually blew over the whole region, like the Quelccaya Ice Cap some 500 miles northwest in southern Peru.
The pollutants used at the Spanish’s urge for the colonial-era silver operations from the 16th century through the 18th century were mostly made of lead and arsenic. This is officially the earliest proof of a large-scale and at the same time human-produced air pollution in South America, which took place two centuries before the industrial revolution.
In 2003, some researchers from Ohio State University managed to remove a series of Quelccaya ice cores that are able to reveal layers of trapped airborne particles over generations. This is a way of piecing together the climatic history of our planet.
“We consider the Quelccaya ice record to be a kind of ‘Rosetta Stone’ for gauging climate change in the tropics because of its very high-resolution, 1,800-year history and its proximity to locations of ancient Andean cultures,”
study co-author Lonnie Thompson explained.
In other words this discovery proves that humans have been changing the surrounding environment for much longer than initially believed. This could bring a great contribution regarding the international geological governing bodies’ decision on whether to call this current epoch The Anthropocene, meaning The Age of Humans. This refers to the exact amount of time humans have played a key role in influencing the environment.
The findings of this study were published in the journal Proceedings belonging to the National Academy of Sciences.