A Little Big History of Iberian Gold

Olga García-Moreno, Luís Erick Aguirre-Palafox, Walter Álvarez, William Hawley


We present a “little big history” of the gold that either was mined in the Iberian Peninsula, or was brought there from deposits located elsewhere, by trade or by conquest.  During Roman times, gold was extracted from the Peninsula itself.  In the Middle Ages, gold was brought across the Sahara from very rich near-surface occurrences in West Africa.  After the discovery of the New World, Colombia was the most important source of gold entering the Peninsula.  Each of these gold-bearing regions has had a different geological history, and in each one, gold was concentrated by a variety of geological processes.  The West African gold dates back to fairly early in Earth history, about 2 billion years ago, and resulted from closure of an ancient ocean basin.  The Iberian gold is related to the continental collision that produced the Appalachians and their Variscan continuation in Europe, while assembling the Pangea supercontinent.  The Colombian gold is associated with the subduction under South America of the Pacific Ocean crust that has produced the Andes.  For each of the three regions we present a database of historical and active gold mining areas, and we summarize this information in maps.  The ways in which Earth concentrates gold are the subject of much geological research, and we give a brief introduction to this remarkable topic, hoping that big historians will go beyond Carl Sagan’s statement that “We’re made of star-stuff,” and will recognize that “We’re made of star-stuff, concentrated by Earth.”

Full Text:



Álvarez, W., 2016, A most improbable journey: a big history of our planet and ourselves, New York, W. W. Norton.

Barnes, S. J., and Ripley, E. M., 2016, Highly siderophile and strongly chalcophile elements in magmatic ore deposits,: Reviews in Mineralogy and Geochemistry, v. 81, no. 1, p. 725-774.

Bierlein, F. P. and Pisarevsky, S., 2008, Plume-related oceanic plateaus as a potential source of gold mineralization: Economic Geology, 103(2), pp.425-430.

Blanco, A. and Rothemberg, B., 1981, Exploración arqueometalúrgica de Huelva, Barcelona, Labor.

Blas Cortina, M. A., 1983, La prehistoria reciente en Asturias, Oviedo, Fundación Pública de Cuevas y Yacimientos Prehistóricos de Asturias.

Blas Cortina, M. A., 1994, El anillo áureo de tiras de Mata’l Casare I y su localización megalítica, Oviedo, Principado de Asturias.

Bovill, E. W., 1968, The golden trade of the Moors, London, Oxford University Press.

Brenan, J. M., and McDonough, W. F., 2009, Core formation and metal–silicate fractionation of osmium and iridium from gold: Nature Geoscience, v. 2, no. 11, p. 798–801, doi: 10.1038/ngeo658.

Brimhall, G. H., 1987, Metallogenesis: Reviews of Geophysics, v. 25, no. 5, p. 1079-1088.

Brimhall, G. H., 1991, The genesis of ores: Scientific American, v. 264, no. 5, p. 84-91.

Buffett, B. A., Garnero, E. J., and Jeanloz, R., 2011, Sediments at the top of Earth’s core: Science v. 1338, no. 2000, doi: 10.1126/science.290.5495.1338.

Burke, K., Steinberger, B., Torsvik, T. H., and Smethurst, M. A., 2008, Plume generation zones at the margins of large low shear velocity provinces on the core-mantle boundary: Earth and Planetary Science Letters, v. 265, no. 1-2, p. 49–60, doi: 10.1016/j.epsl.2007.09.042.

Christian, D., Brown, C. S., and Benjamin, C., 2014, Big history: Between nothing and everything, New York, McGraw Hill.

Cowan, J. J., and Thielemann, F. K., 2004, R-process nucleosynthesis in supernovae: Physics Today, v. 57, no. 10, p. 47-54.

de Wit, M. J., and Ashwal, L. D., 1997, Greenstone belts, Oxford, Clarendon Press.

Fernández-Lozano, J., Gutiérrez-Alonso, G., and Fernández-Morán, M. A., 2015, Using airborne LiDAR sensing technology and aerial orthoimages to unravel roman water supply systems and gold works in NW Spain (Eria valley, León): Journal of Archaeological Science, v. 53, p. 356-373. First edition.

Frimmel, H. E., 2008, Earth’s continental crustal gold endowment, Earth and Planetary Science Letters, v. 267, no. 1–2, p. 45-55.

Garcia-Guinea, J., Correcher, V., Rojas, R. M., Fierro, J. L. G.,

Fernandez-Martin, C., López-Arce, P., and Rovira-Llorens, S., 2005, Chemical tracers in archaeological and natural gold: Aliseda Tartessos treasure and new discovered nuggets (SW Spain): Gold Bulletin, v. 38, no. 1, p. 23-28.

Garzón-Ruipérez, L., 1994, Historia de la materia: del Big Bang al origin de la vida, Oviedo, Ediciones Nobel.

Gibbons, W., and Moreno, T., 2002, The geology of Spain, London: Geological Society.

Goldfarb, R. J., Groves, D. I., and Gardoll, S., 2001a, Rotund versus skinny orogens: Well-nourished or malnourished gold?: Geology, v. 29, no. 6, p. 539-542.

Goldfarb, R. J., Groves, D. I., and Gardoll, S., 2001b, Orogenic gold and geologic time: A global synthesis: Ore Geology Reviews, v. 18, no. 1-2, p. 1-75.

Goldfarb, R. J., Bradley, D., and Leach, D. L., 2010, Secular variation in economic geology: Economic Geology, v. 105, no. 3, p. 459-465.

Goldfarb, R. J., and Groves, D. I., 2015, Orogenic gold: Common or evolving fluid and metal sources through time: Lithos, v. 233, p. 2-26.

Gutiérrez-Alonso, G., Fernández-Suárez, J., and Weil, A. B., 2004, Orocline triggered lithospheric delamination: Geological Society of America Special Papers, v. 383, p. 121-130.

Johnston, C. W., Wyatt, M. A., Li, X., Ibrahim, A., Shuster, J., Southam, G., and Magarvey, N. A., 2013, Gold biomineralization by a metallophore from a gold-associated microbe: Nature Chemical Biology, v. 9, no. 4, p. 241-243.

Johnston, S. T., Weil, A. B., and Gutierrez-Alonso, G., 2013, Oroclines; thick and thin: Geological Society of America Bulletin, v. 125, no. 5-6, p. 643-663.

Justel Cadierno, A. M., Fernández Lozano, J., and Fernández Morán, M. A., 2014, Ruta romana del oro en la Valdería, Castrocontrigo-León, LAIMPRENTA-Valencia.

Leitão, H., and Alvarez, W., 2011, The Portuguese and Spanish voyages of discovery and the early history of geology: Geological Society of America Bulletin, v. 123, no. 7-8, p. 1219-1233.

Nie, J., Horton, B. K., Mora, A., Saylor, J. E., Housh, T. B., Rubiano, J., and Naranjo, J., 2010, Tracking exhumation of Andean ranges bounding the middle Magdalena Valley basin, Colombia: Geology, v. 38, no. 5, p. 451-454.

O’Brien, W., 2015, Prehistoric copper mining in Europe, 5500-500 BC, Oxford and New York : Oxford University Press.

Oppliger, G. L., Murphy, J. B., and Brimhall., G. H., Jr., 1997, Is the ancestral Yellowstone hotspot responsible for the Tertiary “Carlin” mineralization in the Great Basin of Nevada?: Geology, v. 25, no. 7, p. 627-630.

Perea, A., and Rovira, S., 1995, The gold from Arrabalde, in Morteani,G and Northover, J. P. Eds. Prehistoric gold in Europe, The Netherlands. Springer, p. 471-490.

Pérez-Garcı́a, L. C., Sánchez-Palencia, F. J., and Torres-Ruiz, J., 2000, Tertiary and Quaternary alluvial gold deposits of Northwest Spain and Roman mining (NW of Duero and Bierzo Basins): Journal of Geochemical Exploration, v. 71, no. 2, p. 225-240.

Pick, L. K., 2013, Rethinking Cluny in Spain: Journal of Medieval Iberian Studies, v. 5, no. 1, p. 1-17.

Pliny the Elder, transl. H. Rackham, 1952, Natural History (Loeb Classical Library, Harvard University Press, Cambridge MA), v.9, book 33, p. 57-61.

Richards, M. A., Duncan, R. A., and Courtillot, V. E., 1989, Flood basalts and hot-spot tracks: Plume heads and tails: Science, v. 246, no. 4926, p. 103–107, doi: 10.1126/science.246.4926.103.

Russell, P. E., 2000, Prince Henry “the Navigator”: A life, New Haven, Yale University Press.

Smith, A. J. B., Henry, G., and Frost-Killian, S., 2016, A review of the Birimian Supergroup- and Tarkwaian Group-hosted gold deposits of Ghana: Episodes, v. 39, no. 2, p. 177-197.

Tolstikhin, I. N., and Kramers, D., 2008, The evolution of matter, Cambridge, UK, Cambridge University Press.

Webber, A. P., Roberts, S., Taylor, R. N., and Pitcairn, I. K., 2013, Golden plumes: Substantial gold enrichment of ocean crust during ridge-plume interaction: Geology, v. 41, no. 1, p. 87-90.

West, R. C., 1952, Colonial placer mining in Colombia, Baton Rouge, Louisiana State University Press, Louisiana State University studies. Social science series: no. 2.

Willbold, M., Elliott, T., and Moorbath, S., 2011, The tungsten isotopic composition of the Earth’s mantle before the terminal bombardment: Nature, v. 477, no. 7363, p. 195-198.


  • There are currently no refbacks.