The identification of early lead mining: environmental, archaeological and historical perspectives from Islay, Inner Hebrides, Scotland
This thesis investigates whether lead mining can be detected using palaeoenvironmental data recovered from freshwater loch and marsh sediment. Using radiometric time-frames and geochernical analyses the environmental impact of 18th and 19th century mining on Islay, Inner Hebrides, Scotland, has been investigated. The model of known mining events thus produced has been used to assess previously unrecorded (early) lead mining activity. Previous mining in the area is suggested by 18th century accounts that record the presence of 1,000 "early" workings scattered over the north-east limestone region. While there is little to support the often repeated assertion that lead mining dates back to the Norse Period (circa lOll th centuries) it is clear that it may well have been an established industry prior to the time of the first historical records in the 16th century. In order to use a palaeoenvironmental approach to the question of mining history and its impact, the strategy has been to use integrated loch and catclunent units of study. The areas considered are; Loch Finlaggan, Loch Lossit, Loch Bharradail and a control site at Loch Leathann. Soil and sediment geochemical mapping has been used to assess the distribution of lead, zinc and copper within the catchments. Environmental pathways have been identified and influx of lead, zinc and copper to the loch sediment has been detennined through the analyses of cores from each loch basin. Archaeological fieldsurvey and the re-examination of the results from mineral prospecting data across the study region provides new evidence on the geographical extent and contaminatory effects of leadmining in this area. This study shows how the effect of lead mining can be identified in the palaeoenvironrnental record from circa 1367 AD onwards, so mining in Islay does indeed predate the earliest known archaeological and historical records.