Galena and wrought lead pieces of archeological excavations in La Isabela. Photo: James Quine / University of Florida
The supposedly first silver found by European colonists in America comes from the Old World: The lumps of archeology excavated by archaeologists in Christopher Columbus' Caribbean settlement of La Isabela in the late 1980s are of Spanish origin, American researchers have now been able to prove. Columbus had probably taken the ore as a reference material on his second trip to America, the researchers suspect Alyson Thibodeau from the University of Arizona in Tucson. During excavations in La Isabela, the first planned European settlement on American soil, the Venezuelan archaeologist José Cruxent had discovered in the late 1980s silver-containing lead ore, so-called galena. In addition, there was a melting furnace, crucible and slag? Evidence that the first European colonists had tried to win silver from the ore. "This seemed to be the first European precious metal discoveries in the New World, " says David Killick, co-author of the study. "But they are not."

The scientists studied the ore and the slag using chemical methods. Due to the ratio of certain forms of lead, the so-called isotopes, they assume that the rock comes from Spain. In the late Middle Ages, miners estimate the precious metal content of unknown ores by comparing them to galena, whose silver content they knew. Columbus, who wanted to find precious metals on his second trip to America, could have taken the galena pieces as reference material, the researchers suspect.

La Isabela is located on the north coast of today's Dominican Republic. The up to 1, 500 Spanish expatriates lived there more badly than right and abandoned the settlement only two years after its founding, when Christopher Columbus' brother Bartolomeo found at Santo Domingo on the south coast of the island of gold. Some of the last inhabitants of La Isabela tried desperately and apparently unknowingly to win silver from the ore brought from Spain. So the scientists explain the finding of the silver-containing slag that had accumulated when smelting the lead ore.

Alyson Thibodeau (University of Arizona, Tucson) et al .: PNAS, Online Preliminary Publication, DOI: 10.1073 / pnas.0607297104 ddp / Fabio Bergamin ad


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