AROUND 3,000 BCE
A commonly used metal in ancient times, lead was easy to work with and extract, due to its malleability and ability to be smelted. The metal is thought to have been first mined in Anatolia (modern-day Turkey) around 6500 BCE. During the early Bronze Age, lead was sometimes mixed along with tin and copper in the creation of bronze. Lead was more widely used by the ancient Greeks and Romans, as compared to other civilisations, but little evidence can be found on why that was. Historians have found that up till the 16th century the most common metal in the making of pencils, before graphite, was lead. The ancient Greeks and Romans created a writing instrument by clamping lead between pieces of wood, giving rise to the concept of a “pencil”.
Unfortunately, these ancient peoples did not understand the toxicity of lead to humans, and some experts believe that this might have been part of the reason for the fall of the Roman Empire, though this is still highly contested among historians. In these ancient cities, water was transported in lead pipes, but the water would corrode the lead plumbing, leading to a high concentration of lead entering drinking water, resulting in serious health problems, including infertility, brain damage, and even death. It was not until the scientific advancements of the 20th century that the toxicity of lead was confirmed, but due to its extensive use in construction, plumbing, paints and alloys, it continues to pose a health danger to society.