The mysterious case of Columbus's silver ore

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Residents of a 15th-century New World mining colony founded by Christopher Columbus turned to desperate measures in the face of rapidly deteriorating conditions, a new study suggests. According to researchers from the University of Arizona, the colony of La Isabela's situation was so dire that the miners tried to smelt their own supplies by extracting silver from lead ore they brought with them from Europe. Archaeologists working at the site—located in what is now the Dominican Republic—in the 1990s found slag and other by-products of mining operations indicating that the miners had processed some ore there. The initial conclusion was that the ore had been found near La Isabela, processed there, and found to contain no significant amount of silver or other precious metals. But the new report suggests that the colonists, beset by hunger, disease, hurricanes, mutiny, and conflicts with the natives, were instead pilfering their own supply of ore.

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