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 Antarctic Ice Sheet mass loss has increased
14.06.2018 | Technische Universität Dresden

nachricht WAKE-UP provides new treatment option for stroke patients | International study led by UKE
17.05.2018 | Universitätsklinikum Hamburg-Eppendorf

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: Temperature-controlled fiber-optic light source with liquid core

In a recent publication in the renowned journal Optica, scientists of Leibniz-Institute of Photonic Technology (Leibniz IPHT) in Jena showed that they can accurately control the optical properties of liquid-core fiber lasers and therefore their spectral band width by temperature and pressure tuning.

Already last year, the researchers provided experimental proof of a new dynamic of hybrid solitons– temporally and spectrally stationary light waves resulting...

Im Focus: Overdosing on Calcium

Nano crystals impact stem cell fate during bone formation

Scientists from the University of Freiburg and the University of Basel identified a master regulator for bone regeneration. Prasad Shastri, Professor of...

Im Focus: AchemAsia 2019 will take place in Shanghai

Moving into its fourth decade, AchemAsia is setting out for new horizons: The International Expo and Innovation Forum for Sustainable Chemical Production will take place from 21-23 May 2019 in Shanghai, China. With an updated event profile, the eleventh edition focusses on topics that are especially relevant for the Chinese process industry, putting a strong emphasis on sustainability and innovation.

Founded in 1989 as a spin-off of ACHEMA to cater to the needs of China’s then developing industry, AchemAsia has since grown into a platform where the latest...

Im Focus: First real-time test of Li-Fi utilization for the industrial Internet of Things

The BMBF-funded OWICELLS project was successfully completed with a final presentation at the BMW plant in Munich. The presentation demonstrated a Li-Fi communication with a mobile robot, while the robot carried out usual production processes (welding, moving and testing parts) in a 5x5m² production cell. The robust, optical wireless transmission is based on spatial diversity; in other words, data is sent and received simultaneously by several LEDs and several photodiodes. The system can transmit data at more than 100 Mbit/s and five milliseconds latency.

Modern production technologies in the automobile industry must become more flexible in order to fulfil individual customer requirements.

Im Focus: Sharp images with flexible fibers

An international team of scientists has discovered a new way to transfer image information through multimodal fibers with almost no distortion - even if the fiber is bent. The results of the study, to which scientist from the Leibniz-Institute of Photonic Technology Jena (Leibniz IPHT) contributed, were published on 6thJune in the highly-cited journal Physical Review Letters.

Endoscopes allow doctors to see into a patient’s body like through a keyhole. Typically, the images are transmitted via a bundle of several hundreds of optical...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

Munich conference on asteroid detection, tracking and defense

13.06.2018 | Event News

2nd International Baltic Earth Conference in Denmark: “The Baltic Sea region in Transition”

08.06.2018 | Event News

ISEKI_Food 2018: Conference with Holistic View of Food Production

05.06.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

Graphene assembled film shows higher thermal conductivity than graphite film

22.06.2018 | Materials Sciences

Fast rising bedrock below West Antarctica reveals an extremely fluid Earth mantle

22.06.2018 | Earth Sciences

Zebrafish's near 360 degree UV-vision knocks stripes off Google Street View

22.06.2018 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>