Archaeologists Find Microplastic Contamination In Ancient Remains

16 microplastic polymer types found in contemporary and archived samples.

In a groundbreaking discovery, a team from the University of York has unearthed microplastics in historic soil samples, some dating back as far as the first or second century CE. These tiny plastic fragments were found buried over seven meters deep, challenging previous assumptions about the pristine nature of archaeological sites.

The research, published recently, analyzed both contemporary and archived soil samples, uncovering a total of 16 different types of microplastic polymers. This widespread presence of plastic contamination raises concerns about the preservation of historical artefacts and their potential impact on future archaeological investigations.

The findings highlight the pervasiveness of plastic pollution, reaching even into the seemingly untouched layers of the past. This new reality may force archaeologists to re-evaluate their methods for preserving and analysing ancient remains.

The study, published in thejournal Science of the Total Environment,was carried out by the universities of York and Hull and supported by the educational charity York Archaeology.

Professor John Schofield from the University of York’s Department of Archaeology, said: “This feels like an important moment, confirming what we should have expected: that what were previously thought to be pristine archaeological deposits, ripe for investigation, are in fact contaminated with plastics, and that this includes deposits sampled and stored in the late 1980s.

“We are familiar with plastics in the oceans and in rivers. But here we see our historic heritage incorporating toxic elements. To what extent this contamination compromises the evidential value of these deposits and their national importance is what we’ll try to find out next.”

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