While pollution may feel like a contemporary issue, it has been around much longer than originally thought – possibly as much as 7,000 years. An international research team led by Waterloo Professor Russell Adams found evidence of what could be the world’s first polluted river.
In Wadi Faynan, a now seasonal riverbed in southern Jordan, Professor Adams and his colleagues discovered evidence that Neolithic humans transformed their environment by heating blue and green copper ores to create metallic copper. Although the early stages of this smelting process are obscure, the residual pollution from these events left their mark in the soils along the edge of the site.
The discovery provides a glimpse into the beginning of the Copper Age, which preceded the Bronze Age, when humans began to create tools out of metal rather than stone. This research also sheds light on the correlation between pollution and health problems, since high levels of copper and lead have caused infertility, malformations, and premature death in these early societies.