Toxicology: Lead Among the Romans

Ever since the Roman Empire declined and fell, assorted theorists have used the event as proof of their own notions about society's most important ills. Now a new study contends that Rome's collapse was not due to self-satisfied apathy, gluttony, homosexuality, or any other social evil. In a speech at the Third International Congress of Human Genetics in Chicago last week, Sociologist Seabury Colum Gilfillan suggested that the Roman aristocracy died off in large part because of nothing more glamorous than simple lead poisoning.

If regularly introduced through mouth or lung in...

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