Stories of past mining and metallurgy from bogs and bones

Meeting date

Dr Timothy Mighall, Senior Lecturer, University of Aberdeen

Meeting report

For the second lecture of the 2019 DGNHAS lecture programme, held at the Baptist Church Centre, we were fortunate to present Dr Timothy Mighall, senior lecturer in paleoecology from the University of Aberdeen.

lt is well established that man has been mining for metal ores from at least the Bronze Age onwards. However, the identification and archaeology of these sites have been problematic due to later mining activity and the sparseness of archaeological material from these sites.

Dr Mighall had the opportunity to examine stratified bog samples close to these sites in the late 1980s at Copa Hill in Wales. The results were striking, finding that the peat accurately sealed metal pollution deposits from this period and identified this as being a Bronze Age open-cast mining area. Not only copper from the Bronze Age was discovered, but also lead and mercury deposits from the Roman period and later the Industrial Revolution.

Further research was carried out on pollen samples and found that the copper extraction had no detrimental affect on the woodlands unlike the later Roman and industrial workings which showed reductions in pollen numbers.

This technique has been used as a standard to examine other sites in the rest of the country. Dr Mighall was invited to work in Spain alongside colleagues working on bone samples from the Roman and Post Roman period. Striking evidence from this research has shown very high levels of heavy metal pollution during the Roman period with a substantial decrease in the Post Roman period.

The lecture finished with the news that samples have been taken locally from Raeburn Flood which may indicate early workings in the Leadhill–Wanlockhead area.