Mercury Pollution's Oldest Traces Found in Peru

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Demand for the mercury compound vermilion was strong enough to support a large-scale mercury mining industry in the Andes as far back as 1400 B.C., according to a new study (see pictures from the expedition).

A bright red pigment, vermilion was used in ancient Andean rituals and is frequently found adorning gold and silver ceremonial objects in ancient burials of kings and nobles in South America.

The find extends the record of New World mercury production back by more than 2,000 years and provides the first evidence of preindustrial mercury pollution, said geologist Colin Cooke, a Ph.D. student at Canada's University of Alberta and lead author of the study.

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