Recent studies have shown that lead poisoning was extremely widespread in wealthy Europeans during the Middle Ages.
Back in the Medieval times, rich people used beautifully designed glazed pottery when eating and drinking. However, this glaze was filled with heavy metals that slowly killed them over time, as the dangerous chemicals seeped into their foods and drinks.
Today, it is common knowledge that exposure to mercury and lead is extremely dangerous and that long term exposure can have drastic consequences on one’s intelligence and health.
Historians also believe that a similar phenomenon led to the decline of the Roman Empire, as its citizens used lead like sugar.
Additionally, during the Middle Ages, doctors often used mercury in treating diseases such as syphilis and leprosy.
Recently, researchers learned more about the issue by examining 207 skeletons from graveyards located in both wealthy towns and rural communities in the countries of Denmark and Germany.
The results showed that mercury levels were slightly higher in skeletons from graveyards located in wealthy towns. Meanwhile, poorer communities tended to have skeletons with lower mercury levels.
Most striking however was that the skeletons of the urban rich had much higher levels of lead than the skeletons of rural communities.
According to the author of the study Kaare Lund Rasmussen, “Lead glaze was practical to clean, and looked beautiful, so it was understandably in high demand. In the Middle Ages you could almost not avoid ingesting lead, if you were wealthy or living in an urban environment.”
Lead glaze was extremely popular during this time period, as it was used in everything from coins to roofing tiles.
Meanwhile, lead glaze was too expensive for poorer individuals. But it turns out that is may have been a blessing in disguise, since less affluent people were clearly exposed to fewer harmful chemicals than that of their wealthier counterparts during this era.