Safely unknown


Prehistoric fishermen hauling in deadly catches?/Wikimedia Commons

Climate change began poisoning the people of the Norwegian Arctic with dangerous chemicals some 3,800 to 6,300 years ago scientists have concluded after digging around in the garbage pits of that country’s Varanger region.

Some of this is not exactly news. Mercury has been previously identified as a chemical pollutant in the human diet for thousands of years before humans began worrying about dangerous chemicals in their diets.

Researchers studying cod caught off the North American coast in 2015 first stumbled on evidence of high levels of mercury in the fish that would have been eaten by Stone Age hunter/gatherers 6,500 years ago. But now the scientists in Norway have recovered the uneaten remains of Atlantic cod and harp seals consumed by the early people and added other dangerous heavy metals to the prehistoric diet.

“Climate change induced highly elevated levels of the heavy metals cadmium and lead, and elevated levels of mercury,” they reported in the peer-reviewed journal Quaternary International. “On average, the levels of cadmium and lead contamination in cod were up to 22 and three-to-four times, respectively, higher than today’s recommended limits in soft tissue. The corresponding figures for seal were 15 and three-to-four times, respectively. The levels of mercury were generally below today’s recommended limit in soft tissue, but still of considerable magnitude, almost similar to the measured values in modern fish in the Arctic.”

Given the tie to climate change, there is no reason to believe this pollution was lower anywhere else in an Arctic historically portrayed as pristine and unpolluted before the arrival of modern man.

The team of scientists led by Hans Peter Blankholm from the Arctic University of Norway said their study “shows that marine food in the Younger Stone Age was unhealthy, if not unsafe.”

Dose related

The difference between unhealthy and unsafe is dosage.

If the fish and seals were minor food sources in the early Norwegian diet, a diet with limited heavy metals might be merely unhealthy.  If fish and wildlife contaminated with lead, cadmium and mercury were the major part of the diet, however, they could have been deadly.

The effects would likely have been mitigated by the generally shorter lives lived by prehistoric people giving the chemicals less time to accumulate. Then again, these toxins might also have contributed to shorter lives.

Cadmium has been linked to kidney disease, artery disease, osteoporosis, anemia and birth defects.

Chronic exposure to lead can cause heart disease, reduced fertility, and some general symptoms – depression, distraction, forgetfulness and a general feeling of sickness – that would not be helpful to a hunter-gatherer trying to find food every day while avoiding predators. 

Mercury can cause all sorts of neurological problems: loss of peripheral vision, loss of coordination, muscle weakness, and impaired hearing and speech. The yet-to-be-born children of women with high mercury levels are also subject to a wide variety of diseases causing future impairments.

Cadmium, lead and mercury are all natural minerals found in the earth’s crust, and the belief is that they made their way into fish by being mixed into seawater as the oceans rose after the last glaciation.

Once in the water, the chemicals can be absorbed by fish through their gills and skin. Marine mammals that prey on the fish are then contaminated. And heavy metals bioaccumulate in all of the predatory species.

Deadly diet?

Humans, being top-level predators, could conceivably have killed older seals loaded with heavy metals.

“Dangerous food,” the Norwegians titled their paper. “Climate change induced elevated heavy metal levels in Younger Stone Age seafood in northern Norway.”

“The real ‘paleo diet’ may have been full of toxic metals,” Science Magazine headlined the story, seemingly putting the quotes around the wrong words. It would be the “real,” as in original paleo diet that would have been toxic.

There is considerable debate about today’s paleo diet – which is heavy in meats, seeds, fresh vegetables and nuts while avoiding processed food and grains.

But given modern food safeguards, most people are warned away from foods, primarily freshwater fish, loaded with heavy metals.

Despite that, many worry about what’s in their food despite how much safer it is today than during most of the past.

“Pollutants have been entering our food chain for millennia,” Ian Randal observed in the Science story. And they still are. Many things, including water, can be deadly if overdosed.

A young, fit health runner died in the London Marathon in 2007 from hyponatremia – what is often caused water intoxication. The 27-year-old fitness instructor drank so much water he drove the sodium levels in his blood down to deadly levels.

Hyponatremia “can lead to confusion, headaches and a fatal swelling of the brain,” the newspaper reported at the time. “In 2003 St Thomas’ Hospital treated 14 runners for the condition.”

The trade-off between the dangers in many foods and the need for nutrition led many scientists to conclude that it’s hard to tell exactly how dangerous the diets of those early Norwegians.  Heavy metal contamination that will kill you in years down the road beats starving to death in the here and now.











23 replies »

  1. Classic ending to another BOF mtg concerning CI, after a week & half, now dealing with an emergency petition, and the end of the final proposals. Majority of shareholders have left the mtg, some with hound dog emotions and others with muted brief elations. No one really happy, as usual with CI decisions.

  2. Thank God this insane moron wasn’t around back then..
    “Giving birth to a child is “the worst thing you can do” to the climate, says philosophy professor Patricia MacCormack of Anglia Ruskin University.

    The professor, author of The Ahuman Manifesto: Activism for the End of the Anthropocene who describes herself as an “old school goth,” says that the only way to save the planet is to stop having children and allow humans to become extinct.”

  3. Varanger is roughly situated on about the same latitude as Prudhoe Bay. It truly is a wonder that man was able to survive, if not thrive, in the extreme Northern climates 3,800 to 6,300 years ago. Of course science tells us the world was warmer back then than it is now so that offsets some of the hardship, but it was only warmer by a few degrees.

  4. James,you forgot paying Social Security.We just cant grow WORKING 18yr olds fast enough these days.
    Thats the real irony imo, with regards to all the anti-immigrant speal from the knuckle draggers

    • Dave, actually I believe more babies are born in US, than US people die everyday. With that said, people who identify as Pacific Islanders and Hispanics have highest birth % each day. Our country was built on immigration, we need more citizens to keep us vibrant and alive.
      In 20-30 years, people who identify as non-white, will be in the majority population wise.
      Reason why, so many ultra conservative judges are being appointed to lifetime seats on the bench. This legacy will last another 40-50 years.
      Think of all the workers not using legal social security cards, they will not derive any benefits, since it is a fake number, even thouagh employers are deducting taxes from their paycheck.
      Hopefully you are saving in a 401 K, IRA or other retirement funds, people will not be able to live on just social security.
      Have a great President’s Day!

      • Jame’s, do you know the difference between ILLEGAL “”immigration”/invasion and LEGAL immigration?

  5. Glad you liked my rant,Yeah, get used to it. The Caucasian majority days are numbered. About time!
    The world is awash in oil, AK is in financial straits, the price of oil is going to drop. Hope you have a retirement saved! Not!

    W. Barr shows his true colors and you defend and support him?
    Another loser! His time is almost up!

  6. In 1967 there were 486,000 US combat troops in Vietnam. Majority were drafted and a % were minorities. In 1967 11 % of US Population was black. In same year 16.3 % of all draftees were black and 23% of Vietnam US in country soldiers were black. In ‘65 25% of US combat deaths in Vietnam, were US African-American soldiers. Middle class white boys got deferments.
    So Steve, reason why so many Hispanics/Latinos are in our current military, is because they were promised a way to US citizenship.
    So, take your BS, about our US serviceman knowing what they are getting into, when they sign up for volunteer service.
    We now let our immigrants fight our costly wars and battles, and if they survive, they could become citizens.
    Not much different than the Union Army in 1861-64, asking every immigrant, who stepped of the boat to sign up and defend their new country. Over a million people died in our Civil War, many were brand new immigrants. I believe the Irish has the largest causalities, of any other nationality.
    Our country has a lot of blood 🩸 on its hands, and has not stopped yet.

  7. I guess a modern climate alarmist / climataphobe can read this article and think they learned that the industrial revolution cause carbon dioxide levels to increase, that raised sea levels and high sea levels poison the food chain. But that’s at all what you said is it? For example: “researchers believe rising sea level was responsible for the pollution in the food chain.” That’s really not the same as “researchers PROVED rising sea level was responsible for the pollution in the food chain”. I guess as a non-alarmist I chose to read this and think: 200 ppm carbon dioxide levels existed at at time when there were a lot of heavy metals in some fish and marine mammals, current carbon dioxide levels are 400 ish ppm and heavy metal levels are much lower therefore this research has no bearing on the cultural construct that carbon dioxide is a bad thing, on the contrary carbon dioxide is food for plants and literally increases the food in the food chain.

  8. Yep,
    After all that talk of cold temperatures last month in Alaska, it looks like the rest of the globe is still way above normal.
    “Last month was the hottest January on record over the world’s land and ocean surfaces, with average temperatures exceeding anything in the 141 years of data held by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration…

    Antarctic temperature rises above 20C for first time on record…

    The record temperatures in January follow an exceptionally warm 2019, which has been ranked as the second hottest year for the planet’s surface since reliable measurements started.
    The past five years and the past decade are the hottest in 150 years of record-keeping, an indication of the gathering pace of the climate crisis.”

    • Funny how the Polar Ice Cap keeps growing? Lucky for us there will be no rise in the oceans. Dodged a “climate crisis” bullet huh?

    • The Antarctic temperature record you cite is Fake News. It was taken nearly 2000 miles from the South Pole & a temperature reading of nearly 2 degrees higher was taken in the same area back in the early 80’s. Relying on climate data from the Guardian is almost as silly as using CNN as your trusted news source.

  9. I just want to add this tiny bit of poisoning the environment. Tragic!
    “Oscar and Grammy-winning singer and global warming activist John Legend and his model wife Chrissy Teigen flew 500 miles on a private jet to dine at a restaurant for their Valentine’s Day date, despite Legend’s insistence that the planet is in the midst of a “climate crisis.”

    John Legend and Teigen reportedly traveled via private jet to grab dinner at the French Laundry restaurant in Yountville, California, which is roughly 500 miles from their home. Teigen documented the Valentine’s Day trip in an Instagram story, which showed the couple on their way to the restaurant in the luxury jet.

    In 2015, Legend warned his followers on Twitter that “We CANNOT elect a president who isn’t serious about climate change”:

    • Donald complained, ranted and whined about B.O. playing golf while being POTUS. Donald has played more golf, in his 3 years, than B.O. ever did. What a load of BS! What a f*****g hypocrite. What a joke, him and rush, they are brothers. White racists and bigots. The Caucasian majority has another 20 years, then we will be the minority! Lean to love it! We will reap what we have sowed!

      • Last note and rant:
        I received a survey/questionaire from US Department of Commerce, last fall, with a note from Wilbur Ross as Secretary. One of the questions, are you a US Citizen? I crossed out the question and sent it back, with the words, I was born in this country, the government knows everything about me, and you want to know if I am a US citizen?
        What a load of BS, instead let us do a census, so we know how many people are in the US.
        I actually do not care if they are citizens or not. I ask you this:
        Who will clean your toilets, pick your fruit, pick your vegetables, clean your house, mow your lawn, rake your leaves, take care of the elderly, wipe your bottom, cook your food, wash your dishes, clean your house, be nanny to your kids, pick up your garbage, paint your house, pick your apples and grapes, process your seafood and take care of all the duties and jobs that white Americans no longer want to do.
        Baby Boomers get ready for change, it is gonna come! 75 million boomers will eventually need someone to wipe their ass, better get ready for diapers!

      • James,

        That’s the most amazingly honest and yet completely racist comment I have seen on this site. White racists and bigots indeed.

      • James, have you ever been to Central or South America? South Africa maybe? Pakistan? Middle East? I want to “love it” but, just cannot.

      • Thank you Bryan, I have been only to N & S America, where I have observed the effects of Catholicism on the people of each country. What the colonial powers did is even worse. We extracted the raw resources and gave money to corrupt politicians. I agree socialism does not work, except in monolithic countries like Norway & Sweden. Bernie is not my guy, though corporate capitalism is a little out of control. I do not have the solutions, though I do know we have to somehow fix our mental health and homelessness problems in our country.
        Have a great 👍🏻 day!

      • Jame’s, Norway and Sweden are NOT socialist countries. Try the USSR and Venezuela and Bernie is the USSR type of Socialist.

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