The Neolithic variscite mines of Gavà, Catalonia

criteria for mineral exploration and exploitation in the Prehistory

Yael Díaz-Acha*, Joan Carles Melgarejo, Josep Bosch, Aleu Andreazini, Míriam Pastor, Núria Pujol-Solà, Marc Campeny, Lisard Torró, Cristina Villanova-de-Benavent, Montgarri Castillo-Oliver, Saleh Lehbib, Antoni Camprubí, Joaquín A. Proenza

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

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Abstract

The Gavà Neolithic Mining Complex (GNMC) located in Catalonia was devoted to the exploitation of green variscite used in the crafting of ornaments. Archaeological works in more than 100 mines indicated that this mining activity was carried out ~5800 years before present. GNMC constitutes (1) one of the earliest known examples of underground mining in Europe, (2) the earliest example of large-scale mining for ornamental use, and (C) the earliest of the application of complex geological and mining concepts. In the GNMC variscite is found as two distinct styles: (1) replacement of thin fluorapatite beds, which are interbedded with pyritic organic-rich black shales of Silurian age; and (2) veinlets crosscutting these materials. This set of geological materials is unconformably covered locally by Quaternary calcretes. Variscite formed as a result of Quaternary supergene processes, which oxidized the pyrite and produced acidic, oxidized solutions. The resulting fluids mobilized phosphate from apatite and leached Al and organic matter out of Silurian shales, thus leading to the precipitation of the Al-rich phosphates as vein infillings and strata-bound replacements after apatite. The formation of variscite is restricted to the extent of the oxidizing front, and variscite of both mineralization styles changes in color from yellowish green near the surface to deep green in depth. The study area contains two mining fields: Can Tintorer and Can Badosa-Les Ferreres range. The presence of abundant subvertical variscite veins in Can Tintorer allowed a complex development of galleries at different exploitation levels communicated by shafts and ramps, achieving 15 meters depth. The exploitation by Neolithic miners was by overhand and underhand stoping; they also used pillars and refilling of older exploitations to avoid the mine collapsing. These mines were opened in many cases by shafts that were dug directly through hard Quaternary calcretes, favoring the galleries' stability and revealing that miners understood that mineralization continues underneath the calcrete cover. Geological mapping reveals that exploitations in the Can Badosa-Les Ferreres area are simple, showing a single entrance to simple galleries or ramps attaining less than 5 m in depth and directly excavated on phosphate outcrops. Contrastingly, the mines in the Can Tintorer area have several entrances that consist of vertical shafts through a Quaternary cover, presenting an intricate geometry with many large and communicated galleries at different depths with a system of cameras and pillars. Although the development of both mining areas was essentially contemporaneous, the Can Badosa-Les Ferreres area can only be considered an exploration area. In addition, mining was carried out on minerals adjacent to variscite, not directly on variscite veins themselves, thus indicating that the miners were effectively using a wealth of geological knowledge that was previously acquired in the complex operations in the Can Tintorer mines.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)295-319
Number of pages25
JournalBoletin de la Sociedad Geologica Mexicana
Volume71
Issue number2
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2019

Bibliographical note

Version archived for private and non-commercial use with the permission of the author/s and according to publisher conditions. For further rights please contact the publisher.

Keywords

  • variscite
  • veinlets
  • replacement
  • supergene
  • Quaternary
  • stoping
  • Neolithic
  • mine
  • protohistoric mining

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    Díaz-Acha, Y., Melgarejo, J. C., Bosch, J., Andreazini, A., Pastor, M., Pujol-Solà, N., ... Proenza, J. A. (2019). The Neolithic variscite mines of Gavà, Catalonia: criteria for mineral exploration and exploitation in the Prehistory. Boletin de la Sociedad Geologica Mexicana, 71(2), 295-319. https://doi.org/10.18268/BSGM2019v71n2a5