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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2007 Feb 27;104(9):3663-6. Epub 2007 Feb 21.

The strange case of the earliest silver extraction by European colonists in the New World.

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  • 1Department of Geosciences, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ 85721, USA.


La Isabela, the first European town in the New World, was established in 1494 by the second expedition of Christopher Columbus but was abandoned by 1498. The main motive for settlement was to find and exploit deposits of precious metals. Archaeological evidence of silver extraction at La Isabela seemed to indicate that the expedition had located and tested deposits of silver-bearing lead ore in the Caribbean. Lead isotope analysis refutes this hypothesis but provides new evidence of the desperation of the inhabitants of La Isabela just before its abandonment.

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