Lead and silver metallurgy on Ibiza through history.
The mining area of S’Argentera on Ibiza island is one of the largest mining areas in the Balearic archipelago, next to the silver-bearing lead deposits of Bunyola on Majorca and the copper fields on Minorca. The project on ancient mining on Ibiza in ancient times is included in DAI research cluster 2 on “Technical and social innovation”.
The mining area, known by the name of Ses Mines (i.e. The Mines in Catalan), is located in the municipality of Sant Carles, mainly defined around the Puig s’Argentera (namely Silvermine Mountain). This hill reaches a height of 125 metres in the North-East of the island, located about 5 km north of Santa Eulalia and next to the PM 910 road to Sant Carles in the wedge formed with the road towards Es Canar. This is where most of the mining activities are still visible, mostly modern remains. In 2003, this core area was declared Heritage of Cultural Interest.
Outside this protected area, another three areas of interest for the history of local mining are known: the three openings on the South-Eastern flank of the Puig de s’Argentera, the karstic cave called Cova/Avenç dels Ramells on the Eastern slope of the Puig de s’Argentera and the mining remains on the Western slope of the Puig Can Miquelet. In isolation, the area between Puig de s’Argentera and Puig Can Miquelet contains other significant remnants of mining, such as shafts, openings, areas that have subsided to ground level, water deposits (known in Catalan as safareigs) or drainage shafts (e.g. in Can Murta).
Another spot with archaeological mining remains is about 7 km away, next to the road from Sant Carles to Es Figueral, just after the junction for Pou d’es Lleò at the plot called Can Vincent Casetes. The existence of more shafts (as e.g. near by Can Curt and Can Margalid) has been confirmed orally on numerous occasions, but it has not been possible to locate them in the terrain. In this case, they must have been mining prospections from the early 20th century, similar to the shafts seen at Can Vincent Casetes. Up to now, the lead deposit close to Sant Joan mentioned in moern times has not yet been located.
The site at “Cerro de la Argentera” was last described by Stefan W. Meier. There are continual references to the prolonged mining activities, postulated even since the arrival of the Phoenicians in the 7th century BC. However, within the discussion about farming uses and the exploitation of natural resources on Ibiza in Punic age, there is no in-depth focus on the possible mining of lead and smelting for silver. Due to the exploitation in modern times and the intensive clearing of old (possibly ancient?) slag heaps, there is a notable scarcity of ancient remains (as e.g. ceramics) visible on the surface. With the help of archive documents, it is possible to reconstruct the mine’s history very well, at least for the 19th and 20th centuries.
In the “Memoriale divisionis” from 1235, as in other documents related to the conquest by the Catalans, no reference is found to the mineral sites. The oldest written reference for ore extraction dates from 1374. Ten years later, there is a mention of the position of a “magistri minerarium”, without any definite knowledge so far about the specific tasks implied by such a position. In the 16th century, the Venetians exported lead from Ibiza to Florence and even to Flanders. While the “Ordenances de política de Bon Govern” (Good Administration ordinances), drafted in 1655, mention mining of ore in the “lead mines of l’Argentera”, in the “Descripció geophysica de Yviza”, the geophysical description of the island from 1783 written by Manuel Abad y Lasierra, we find only the reference that mining at Puig de s’Argentera was depleted since the carthaginians. But in the “Adiciones a la relación de Iviza del Illmo Sr Dn Manuel Abad, primer Obispo de aquella Diócesis […]” (Additions to the description of Ibiza by His Excellency Manuel Abad, the first bishop of that Diocese), Carlos González mentions not only a silver mine, but also the miner Agustin La Planche and his yield between 1789 and 1790.
In 1791, the chemist Joseph-Louis Proust, in Volume 1 of a work entitled “Annals of the Royal Chemistry Laboratory in Segovia”, published a list of some Spanish lead mines (“Ensayo sobre algunas minas de plomo de España”) together with their silver content (“Indagaciones hechas para averiguar la Plata que contienen algunos Plomos de España”). They also describe four samples of silver-bearing galena from the island of Ibiza; two of them from a “gallery dug by the Romans” in the s’Argentera hillside as well as another in the mountainous region near Sant Joan. A century later, the Archduke Ludwig Salvator, in his work entitled “Die Balearen geschildert in Wort und Bild” (The Balearics described in words and images), mentions the finding of silver-bearing galena deposits in this last mentioned region. But the main tangible exploitation of galena took place in the Puig de s’Argentera from 1867 to 1909, although a considerable reduction in production was seen as early as 1872. The mine was abandoned in 1909 due to the rising level of groundwater, as it was impossible to keep the flooded mine dry despite the increase in activity and the installation of pumps powered by steam engines. Mining works focused on extending old shafts and galleries in the hope of finding usable veins. At the same time, the accumulated slag was shipped to Cartagena for further processing. In the 1950s, prospecting took place, particularly in the Es Figueral area, but the outcome was not to favorise large-scale operations.
This is the first extensive study to review the history of mining in ancient times and the economy on the island of Ibiza (Balearics). The study is not only interesting from the standpoint of mining, but is also important for the island’s social history: during the mining boom in the 19th century, there were as many as 200 people working here. Along with the salt pans and seasonal agriculture, the mining activity was the only source of industrial income.
The first specific signs of ancient mining on Ibiza were seen during the first site inspection visiting s’Argentera mining area in July, 2010. The lead isotope analyses indicates, in principle, two main sources of ore deposits on Ibiza: s'Argentera and Can Vincent. These ores are clearly distinct from the geogenetically related fields on the Iberian Peninsula as for example Almería and Cartagena (Murcia). In addition, the analyses carried out so far on metallurgical artefacts from Sa Caleta show the production of native ores already in the time of the Phoenician settlement. They have also shown that, at the same time, work was being done with lead from Cartagena and probably also from Sierra Morena. The archaeological framing of the Sa Caleta settlement to the end of the 7th century and the beginning of the 6th century BC confirms, as indirect evidence, the discreet traces of pre-Roman mining found on s’Argentera hill. At the same time, these results, which still have to be statistically confirmed through a larger number of analyses, prove an early seaborne transport of ore between the Iberian Peninsula and the South of the Balearics. Furthermore, the analysis carried out during the pilot phase on the objects found in the archaeological site has shown that the first series of coins, used particularly at the local level on Ibiza in the 3rd century BC (Field group 8; 300 214 BC), were partly minted with lead from both Cartagena and Ibiza. This allows us to infer the existence of a mining operation in the 3rd century BC that previous research has overlooked.
Surface and underground survey, archaeological studies of mining, materials analysis (archaeometallurgy)
The mining operations are only attested through documents since 1374. It has not been possible to locate the traces of operation by the Romans as mentioned in the Estadística Minera (Mining Statistics of Spain) and referred to in the scientific literature. The extensive extraction activities at the end of 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century covered over almost these traces quite considerably.
Dr. Joan Ramon Torres, Servei tècnic d'arqueologia, Consell d'Eivissa (Ibiza, Spain)
Dr. Jordi Fernández Gómez, Museu Arqueològic d'Eivissa i Formentera (Ibiza, Spain)
Prof. Dr. Ünsal Yalçin, Dr. Michael Prange, Deutsches Bergbau-Museum (Bochum, Germany)
Dr. Luis Jordá Bordehore, Rudnik. Consultant Engineers (Bustarviejo, Madrid, Spain)
J. Castelló Guasch, Las minas de plomo argentífero en Ibiza, Boletín de la Cámara de Comercio, Industria y Navegación, Palma de Mallorca, issue 34, January-March, 1962, pp 34–45.
Cl. Domergue, Les mines de la péninsule ibérique dans l'antiquité romaine. Collection of the French School in Rome 127 (Rome, 1990)
M. H. Hermanns, Bleibarrenfund vor der Nordwestküste von Ibiza (Balearen, Spanien). Überlegungen zum Bleihandel in vorrömischer Zeit, MM 51, 2010, 184-221
M. H. Hermanns, M. Prange, Ü. Yalçin, Pre-Roman mining on Ibiza, In: A. Hauptmann et al. (editor), 3rd International Conference on Archaeometallurgy in Europe. Deutsches Bergbau-Museum, Bochum, June 29th - July 1st, 2011. Abstracts, Metalla, Separata 4, 2011, 132
L. Jordá Bordehore, M. H. Hermanns, R. Jordá Bordehore, Apuntes para el conocimiento histórico de las minas de plomo argentífero de S'Argentera (Ibiza) en los siglos XIX y XX, De Re Metallica 17, 2011, 1-12
J.-F. Maréchal, Sauvetage des mines antiques et creation d'un parc minier archeologique à Ibiza (Pithyuses, Baleares), De Re Metallica 10 - 11, 2008, 109-110.