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Neolithic and Chalcolithic –VI to III millennia BC– use of cinnabar (HgS) in the Iberian Peninsula: analytical identification and lead isotope data for an early mineral exploitation of the Almadén (Ciudad Real, Spain) mining district

AuthorsHunt Ortiz, Mark A.; Consuegra, Susana ; Díaz del Río, Pedro ; Hurtado, Víctor; Montero Ruiz, Ignacio
Copper Age
Issue Date7-Oct-2011
SeriesJ. E. Ortiz, O. Puche, I. Rábano and L. F. Mazadiego (eds.) History of Research in Mineral Resources. Cuadernos del Museo Geominero, 13. Instituto Geológico y Minero de España, Madrid: 3-13.
AbstractThis research has been centred on the analytical identification of the use of cinnabar (the red mercury sulphide-HgS-) as a pigment in Neolithic and Chalcolithic archaeological contexts (VI to III millennia B.C.) and in the determination of its possible origin by the application of Lead Isotopes analysis. In order to confront the isotopic results of the archaeological cinnabar pigments, samples from the mercury sulphide mineral deposits of Usagre (Badajoz) and Las Alpujarras (Granada) were submitted to Lead Isotopes analysis. These results were added to those available in the geo-chronological literature referred to the Almadén mining district (Ciudad Real), the largest concentration of cinnabar in the world, although with the oldest evidence of mining dated, at present, to the 8th century BC. The confrontation of the lead isotopic results of the samples from archaeological contexts and of the mineral deposits showed, firstly, the distinguishable lead isotopic composition of the main cinnabar mines studied and, secondly, the consistency of the isotopic composition of the archaeological Neolithic and Chalcolithic cinnabar samples with the Almadén district isotopic field. Based on the currently available isotopic data, it is proposed that the exploitation and the use as a pigment of cinnabar mineral from the Almadén district started, at least, in the late 6th millennium BC, being distributed through long distance exchange networks during the Neolithic and Chalcolithic periods
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