Once I was a clever boy learning the arts of Oxford... is a quotation from the verses written by Bishop Richard Fleming (c.1385-1431) for his tomb in Lincoln Cathedral. Fleming, the founder of Lincoln College in Oxford, is the subject of my research for a D. Phil., and, like me, a son of the West Riding. I have remarked in the past that I have a deeply meaningful on-going relationship with a dead fifteenth century bishop... it was Fleming who, in effect, enabled me to come to Oxford and to learn its arts, and for that I am immensely grateful.

Sunday, 5 April 2020

Measuring Medieval lead pollution and economic activity

The BBC News website had an article recently about evidence in a Swiss glacier pertaining to the lead smelting trades of later twelfth century England. Evidence of environmental pollution laid down in the ice can be measured in extracted core samples.

The article can be read here:

Whilst such evidence of economic activity is fascinating I do wonder slightly if the way the case is argued is a little misleading. Sport from the fact that Thomas Becket was not actually beheaded - his death was rather nastier with the top of his head being sliced off like a boiled egg and his brains scattered across the cathedral floor - the monasteries founded by King Henry II were not in their scale comparable to the vast amount of energy employed in creating much larger Cistercian houses forty or so years earlier. 

That the trade fluctuated with events, including changes of monarch, is not surprising, but the way the case is presented in the article is suggestive or emblematic of the modern historical trend to present one fact, however interesting in itself, as explaining or revealing everything else about a time or period - and that really will not do.

It does reveal interesting things about the scale and significance of twelfth century Derbyshire lead mining and about the medieval environment - that in itself is no mean scholarly achievement and adds to our knowledge.

There is another article about this which can be seen at: https://www.medievalists.net/2020/04/lead-pollution-in-britain-was-just-as-bad-in-the-12th-century-as-during-the-industrial-revolution-study-finds/

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