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Pre-Roman Silver Miners at Riotinto

  • Antonio Blanco and J. M. Luzón

The name Riotinto has something of a magical connotation in the world of mining. It has been called the geologist’s paradise because at almost no other place on the earth has nature exposed in one spot such richness and variety of minerals. The floor of the bed of the richest areas in Riotinto is made up of a mass of porphyry and pyrites overlain by an oxidised cap. At the zone of contact between the two levels is an enormous deposit of silver, gold and other metals which today, as in ancient times, supports a flourishing industry.

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* The term ‘jarosite’ used in this context is somewhat misleading. Many metallurgists today use the word to describe any ore rich in this mineral. Since it is far from pure jarosite, the ore in this instance would be better described as ‘jarositic earth’. For a more detailed discussion of these ores from Riotinto see Allan, John C. in Bull. Hist. Metallurgy Group, 2 (1968), 4750 .

Some metallurgists may doubt that there existed any need to add either a flux or lead, as suggested in this paper, to effect the separation of the metals present in the ore, on the grounds that the jarositic earth, as the chemical formula of jarosite shows, was already rich in potash. Equally lead, in the form of plumbo-jarosite, was present in the ores in appreciable quantities, as shown by the analyses listed by Allan (op. cit., 48, table).—Editor.


[1] Rua Figueroa, R., Ensayo sobre la historia de las minas de Rio Tinto (Madrid, 1859), 14.

[2] M. Almagro, Depósito de la Ría de Huelva, Inv. Arch., Fase. 1–4, E.1.

[3] Täckholm, U., Opusc. Romana, V, 1965, 170, n. 2.

[4] Rothenberg, B., Palest. Expl. Quart., XCIV, 1962, 19 , figs. 7, 17.

[5] Williams, D., ‘The Geology of the Rio-Tinto Mines’, Bull. MM (April 1934).

[6] Rothenberg, op. cit. [4], pl. IX, figs. 3, 4, 5.

[7] Benoît, F., Recherches sur l’hellenisation du Midi de la Gaule (1955), 180, 194, n. 29.

[8] Dunand, M., Fouilles de Byblos, 11, 195, no. 8490, 8624 , fig. 215.

[9] Jodin, A., Mogador, comptoir phénicien du Maroc atlantique (1966), 141 ; Cintas, P., Contribution à l’Étude de l’Expansion Carthaginoise au Maroc (1954), 43, 88 , figs. 49, 50; Vuillemot, G., Reconnaisances aux Échelles Puniques d’Oranie (1965). 68, 149.

[10] Bonsor, G., Rev. Arch., 11, 1899 , fig. 97; Jodin, op. cit. [9], 132.

[11] Monteagudo, L., Archivo Esp. Arq., XXVI, 1953, 360 , fig. 7, no. 7; Esteve, M., Inf ormes y Memorias CGEA, XXII, 1950, pl. VIII ; Tarradell, M., Marruecos pùnico (1960), fig. 13; Vuillemot, op. cit. [9], fig. 53.

[12] Sundwall, J., Die älteren italischen Fibeln (1943), 198, 200 ; Hencken, H., PPS, XXII, 1956, 213 .

[13] Schüle, W., Madr. Mitt., 11, 1961, 62 , fig. 12 A 3.

[14] G. Bonsor, op. cit. [10].

[15] Pellicer, M., Excavaciones en la Necrópolis Púnica ‘Laurita’, del Cerro de San Cristobal (Madrid, 1962).

[16] Niemeyer, H. G., Pellicer, M., Schubert, H., Madr. Mitt., V, 1964, 74 .

Dr Blanco-Freijeiro, until recently Professor in the Faculty of Philosophy and Letters of the University of Seville, and now Director of the Spanish Academy in Rome, and his collaborator, Dr Luzón, here describe their excavations at Riotinto in southern Spain in 1966-7 which revealed the remains of a community of miners of the 8th to 7th centuries BC, with houses and equipment very like those known from 10th century BC contexts in Palestine. The main product of the work of these Phoenicians, or natives in close contact with the Phoenician world, was silver: no trace of copper working was found.

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  • ISSN: 0003-598X
  • EISSN: 1745-1744
  • URL: /core/journals/antiquity
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