Valuable Enough to Kill For: 4,000-Year-Old Mine Which Was Hijacked by Foreign Forces Uncovered in Spain
Archaeologists in Spain have uncovered sophisticated mining operations in Munigua, which were in operation as long ago as 4,000 years, but first Carthage and then Romans hijacked them for the vitally important metals iron and copper.
Iron and copper were important in those days for weaponry and tools and in international trade. An article in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz says the substances were “valuable enough to kill for.”
The Romans had a habit of taking over mines that were already in operation in Spain, Israel and elsewhere in their far-flung empire.
Some of the Roman ruins at Munigua go back to around the 2 nd century BC. (Wikimedia Commons/Photo by Cybergelo)
Researchers believe the mine in the ancient city of Muniqua in southern Spain was developed by the Turdetani people more than 4,000 years ago. The archaeologists have found ventilated underground rooms, shafts and tunnels dug into the earth that they believe were later developed by the Romans, who hijacked the operation from Carthaginians, who had stolen it in the 3 rd century BC from the locals.
Living spaces in the ruins of the city of Munigua, where mines produced iron and copper as long ago as 4,000 years by locals and which were later commandeered by first Carthaginians and then the Romans. (Wikimedia Commons/Aegon2001)
The article says miners extracted huge amounts of iron and copper for the Romans at Munigua but that the operation shut down in the 2 nd century AD along with other mines on the Iberian Peninsula, which Rome referred to as Hispania.
Haartez says the mines were in operation before people settled the area of Munigua. Evidence for a community there is seen in Greek ceramics dating to the 4 th century BC. The town was a big, important hub when the Romans arrived and conquered it.
People were mining iron and copper for more than 4,000 years in southern Spain. Around the 3 rd century BC the Carthaginian general Hamilcar Barca made landfall on the southeast coast and set up New Carthage. The Punic general also hijacked the Munigua mines, which refilled Carthage’s treasury within a few years.
Not long after, in 218 BC, the Romans arrived by ship in Hispania and took the mines at Castulo and New Carthage. The Romans severed Carthage’s supply of the vital metals and attempted to destroy its economy.
In one bold attack, 500 Roman troops came ashore at New Carthage, which marked the beginning of the end for Carthage in Spain. But it wasn’t until more than 100 years later that the Romans were mining there. Ancient authors wrote that there was a big migration from Italy to Hispania around that time.
The researchers concluded that mining really took off in the 2 nd century BC because of huge amounts of slag—a mining byproduct—around Munigua.
“Slag is a first-class archaeological source material, as it can be analyzed and can give precise information about the metal melted, the process by which melting was achieved and the chemical characteristics of the metal,” Professor Thomas G. Schattner of the German Archaeological Institute in Madrid and head of the excavations.
A temple to Mercury at Munigua (Wikimedia Commons/Photo by Aegon2001)
The mines are not the only thing being excavated at Munigua. Digs have been underway since 1956, and archaeologists have found city walls, a big necropolis or cemetery, temples, small sanctuaries, a two-story hall, thermal baths and a forum.
A large terrace sanctuary is there and is referred to as the Castle of Mulva, but experts don’t know which deity or deities were worshiped there.
The city declined after an earthquake in the 3 rd century AD. By the 6 th century, people had abandoned Munigua for the most part. The only evidence of occupation was a few broken pieces of Arab pottery, Haaretz says.
Top image: Roman gold mine, representational image (CC by SA 3.0)
By Mark Miller