A recent article caught my eye as it in some ways bridges older and newer lines of thinking and living.  The article describes current researchers testing an old Indian bottle making process for risks related to the use of bitumen. The article is summarized in a June 23, article at Science Daily. The introduction explains the points; note that the scientific paper is open access. The paper is titled: “Ancient water bottle use and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon (PAH) exposure among California Indians: a prehistoric health risk assessment.”

“Water bottles replicated in the traditional method used by Native Californian Indians reveal that the manufacturing process may have been detrimental to the health of these people. The study is published this week in the open access journal Environmental Health.

The researchers wanted to know if bitumen — a material derived from petroleum — could have had an impact on the health of ancient Californian Indians. Bitumen consists of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), which are associated with a range of health problems including cancer, hormone imbalance, organ damage and developmental impairments. Modern humans are commonly exposed to PAHs through burning of fossil fuels, food processing and tobacco smoking.

Archaeological evidence and ethnohistorical records show that bitumen was used by Native Californian Indians for a variety of purposes including as a sealant for water containers, fixing arrowheads, and as a material for producing smoke signals. Ancient skeletal remains show that Native Californians suffered a health decline over time, but bitumen use as a health risk factor has not been explored until now.”

Sabrina B. Sholts, Kevin Smith, Cecilia Wallin, Trifa M. Ahmed, Sebastian K. T. S. Wärmländer. Ancient water bottle use and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon (PAH) exposure among California Indians: a prehistoric health risk assessment. Environmental Health, 2017; 16 (1) DOI: 10.1186/s12940-017-0261-1