Prehistoric homes would have failed modern air quality tests

Neolithic dwellings that used wood or dung as fuels would have been in violation of international standards for indoor air quality. This could have exposed residents to dangerous levels of particulates. Neolithic domestic burning of wood or dung fuels would have been in excess of international standards for indoor air quality and exposed residents to dangerous levels of particulates. Archaeologists from Newcastle University in the UK used modern air quality monitoring techniques to evaluate the effects of domestic fuel combustion inside buildings at atalhyk in Turkey. This is one of the oldest settlements on the planet. Atalhyk was a typical house and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It had a domed oven against the south wall. The oven was located under an opening in its roof. A replica of one these houses was constructed at atalhyk in the 1990s to show visitors how it looked during occupation. While studies in the past have shown that biofuels can cause significant health problems, particularly in closed spaces with poor ventilation and other areas, it has not been possible to determine if fuel use has an impact on prehistory's health. Researchers from Northumbria and Durham universities, as well as experts from Copenhagen and Copenhagen universities, tested the pollution levels in the hearth of the replica home. This was done to determine if the residents were exposed to fine particulate matter or how it affected their respiratory health. The Wellcome Trust funded the research. It found that PM2.5 concentrations over a 2-hour period were very high. These concentrations remained high for up to 40 minutes. Although the results showed a greater exposure in front of an oven, similar exposure levels were detected on the sides of the hearth. This suggests that the person's location relative to the fire would only have a minor impact on exposure. Dr Lisa-Marie Shillito is Senior Lecturer in Landscape Archaeology. She explained that "at atalhyk the lack of proper chimney and the fact that buildings are made up of one small room that combined living area and the hearth means that any person inside the building would have been exposed as a result to everyday domestic activities to dangerous levels of particulates." These communities would have been affected by the combination of an open fire and poor ventilation. It can be difficult to study air pollution and respiratory health in past times because human remains are not always preserved properly. PM2.5 particles can penetrate deep into the lungs, where they can become embedded in tissue. This can trigger an inflammation response that can be outside of the lungs. Many of the remains of atalhyk's residents show signs of osteoperiostitis (bone lesions), which could be a response to infection. The research team suggests that this may have been due to the community's chronic exposure to PM2.5. Professor Anil Namdeo of Northumbria University's Department of Air Quality Management stated that "This work has important implications in the current era. There are still many communities that use biomass to heat and cook, as well as poorly ventilated homes. This leads to more than four million deaths annually from indoor air pollution. This issue was highlighted in our study and may lead to mitigation measures. ### Reference: "Analysis Of Fine Particulates From Fuel Burning in a Reconstructed Building at atalhykWorld Heritage Site, Turkey: Assessing Air Pollution in Prehistoric Settlement Communities" Lisa-Marie Shillito and Anil Namdeo, Helen Mackay, Scott D. Haddow Environmental Geochemistry and Health DOI 10/1007/s10653-021-01000-2


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