Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Inhabitants of early settlement were desperate to find metals

26.02.2007
A new study provides evidence that the last inhabitants of Christopher Columbus’ first settlement desperately tried to extract silver from lead ore, originally brought from Spain for other uses, just before abandoning the failed mining operation in 1498. It is the first known European extraction of silver in the New World.

University of Florida archaeologist Kathleen Deagan co-authored the study and led the fieldwork at La Isabela, founded in 1493 on modern day Dominican Republic’s north coast. Deagan collaborated with geoscientists and metallurgists to interpret a smelting operation at the site that appeared to have used nearly 200 pounds of galena, a silver-bearing lead ore.

Findings will be published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Feb. 27 print edition.

“We first thought they mined the galena locally to extract lead for weapons, such as lead shot and musket balls or ship sheathing,” said Deagan, a distinguished research curator at the Florida Museum of Natural History. “But an isotope analysis showed it was actually from Spain. And metallurgical analysis shows they were trying to extract silver. The archaeological evidence suggested just how desperate the last settlers at the colony were to get precious metal before abandoning the settlement.”

Columbus established La Isabela on his second expedition, which Deagan says was a quest for precious metals. Mining and metallurgy were central elements to the settlement of about 1,500 people — almost all men.

“Columbus really expected and needed to find gold,” she said. “Anytime we recovered evidence for metallurgy — like ore, slag or equipment for smelting — it was important.”

Deagan and her team excavated the galena inside a structure they identified as the royal storehouse, near the front entry. Just outside the entry, they excavated more than 440 pounds of metal slag material. Deagan said it was associated with a fire pit likely used for heating metals.

“All the galena was in the last stratigraphic layer of the storehouse,” Deagan said. “The smelting was one of the last activities to take place.”

Deagan collaborated with other researchers to understand how the settlers processed the materials. She contacted archaeometallurgist David Killick at the University of Arizona and provided samples and funding for his laboratory.

Alyson Thibodeau, a geosciences graduate student working with Killick and lead author of the paper, performed an isotope analysis.

“We found that the samples from La Isabela were extremely consistent with galena found in Spain near the port where the second expedition sailed from,” Thibodeau said.

Deagan was surprised to learn the galena was not mined locally. “So the question was: Why did they haul this heavy, unrefined lead ore all the way from Spain when they could have brought processed lead?” Deagan said.

By consulting with Spanish experts in medieval metallurgy, the team discovered other past uses for galena. In medieval times, they learned, galena was used as flux to draw precious metals from ore matrices and to test their purity. This is likely how La Isabela’s settlers used it.

Killick pieced together the settler’s unconventional use of the galena when he identified the excavated slag as lead silicate — the end product of an improvised smelting process. He discovered tiny specks of silver upon examining the lead silicate with optical and scanning electron microscopy.

“That’s when the penny dropped,” he said. “I realized they were wasting all the lead trying to separate out the silver.”

Deagan said the metal analysis showed the settlers didn’t quite know what they were doing. “They were clearly trying to get the silver out of it,” Deagan said. “But the byproducts showed they had too much of one chemical, but not enough of another. Someone knew a little bit, but not enough.”

Ann Ramenofsky, an archaeologist at the University of New Mexico, reviewed the study.

“Given there was someone on the expedition who knew how to do these extractions suggests metallurgy was significant, even though Isabela ultimately failed,” Ramenofsky said. “Deagan deserves high praise for a beautiful excavation. It’s changed our understanding of the Spanish conquest of the Americas.”

Additional authors are Joaquin Ruiz, John Chesley and Ward Lyman of the University of Arizona; and José Cruxent of Universidad Nacional y Experimental Francisco de Miranda in Venezuela. The project was funded by the National Science Foundation, Direccion Nacional de Parques de la Republica Dominicana, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the National Geographic Society and the Keck Foundation.

Kathleen Deagan | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.flmnh.ufl.edu

More articles from Studies and Analyses:

nachricht A sudden drop in outdoor temperature increases the risk of respiratory infections
11.01.2017 | University of Gothenburg

nachricht Urbanization to convert 300,000 km2 of prime croplands
27.12.2016 | Mercator Research Institute on Global Commons and Climate Change (MCC) gGmbH

All articles from Studies and Analyses >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Interfacial Superconductivity: Magnetic and superconducting order revealed simultaneously

Researchers from the University of Hamburg in Germany, in collaboration with colleagues from the University of Aarhus in Denmark, have synthesized a new superconducting material by growing a few layers of an antiferromagnetic transition-metal chalcogenide on a bismuth-based topological insulator, both being non-superconducting materials.

While superconductivity and magnetism are generally believed to be mutually exclusive, surprisingly, in this new material, superconducting correlations...

Im Focus: Studying fundamental particles in materials

Laser-driving of semimetals allows creating novel quasiparticle states within condensed matter systems and switching between different states on ultrafast time scales

Studying properties of fundamental particles in condensed matter systems is a promising approach to quantum field theory. Quasiparticles offer the opportunity...

Im Focus: Designing Architecture with Solar Building Envelopes

Among the general public, solar thermal energy is currently associated with dark blue, rectangular collectors on building roofs. Technologies are needed for aesthetically high quality architecture which offer the architect more room for manoeuvre when it comes to low- and plus-energy buildings. With the “ArKol” project, researchers at Fraunhofer ISE together with partners are currently developing two façade collectors for solar thermal energy generation, which permit a high degree of design flexibility: a strip collector for opaque façade sections and a solar thermal blind for transparent sections. The current state of the two developments will be presented at the BAU 2017 trade fair.

As part of the “ArKol – development of architecturally highly integrated façade collectors with heat pipes” project, Fraunhofer ISE together with its partners...

Im Focus: How to inflate a hardened concrete shell with a weight of 80 t

At TU Wien, an alternative for resource intensive formwork for the construction of concrete domes was developed. It is now used in a test dome for the Austrian Federal Railways Infrastructure (ÖBB Infrastruktur).

Concrete shells are efficient structures, but not very resource efficient. The formwork for the construction of concrete domes alone requires a high amount of...

Im Focus: Bacterial Pac Man molecule snaps at sugar

Many pathogens use certain sugar compounds from their host to help conceal themselves against the immune system. Scientists at the University of Bonn have now, in cooperation with researchers at the University of York in the United Kingdom, analyzed the dynamics of a bacterial molecule that is involved in this process. They demonstrate that the protein grabs onto the sugar molecule with a Pac Man-like chewing motion and holds it until it can be used. Their results could help design therapeutics that could make the protein poorer at grabbing and holding and hence compromise the pathogen in the host. The study has now been published in “Biophysical Journal”.

The cells of the mouth, nose and intestinal mucosa produce large quantities of a chemical called sialic acid. Many bacteria possess a special transport system...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

12V, 48V, high-voltage – trends in E/E automotive architecture

10.01.2017 | Event News

2nd Conference on Non-Textual Information on 10 and 11 May 2017 in Hannover

09.01.2017 | Event News

Nothing will happen without batteries making it happen!

05.01.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Water - as the underlying driver of the Earth’s carbon cycle

17.01.2017 | Earth Sciences

Interfacial Superconductivity: Magnetic and superconducting order revealed simultaneously

17.01.2017 | Materials Sciences

Smart homes will “LISTEN” to your voice

17.01.2017 | Architecture and Construction

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>