The La Balouta Valley, located in the extreme SW region of the Las Médulas Natural Monument and UNESCO World Heritage Site (León, Spain), is one of the largest gold-mining sites developed by the Romans more than 2,000 years ago when excavating a thick series of red Miocene sediments in the area. The main determining feature of the La Balouta Valley, especially if we compare it with the Sil River Valley of which it is a tributary, is its status of a non-functional valley. It is a dry paleo-valley with a flat bottom and is characterized by limited surface water runoff and the presence of small cavities, channels, and residual karst topography. Variscan structures that form the structural framework of the study area underwent long-term erosion and supported deep sediment accumulation in the area during the Miocene, reaching depths of more than 100 m. A portion of these sediments accumulated over a karst, as indicated by karst channels that exhibit total and locally partial filling with red sediments similar to those mined at Las Médulas roughly 2 km further to the east. The presence of gold particles in one of the sediment samples and the identification of several characteristics common of formations mined by the Romans lead us to deem the La Balouta Valley an ancient paleokarst that was initially fossilized by deposition of red Miocene sediments and subsequently excavated via historical mining activities, which formed its current characteristics. In La Balouta, natural and anthropogenic processes have produced a unique cultural landscape that is reflective of systematic gold mining of sediments on the NW Iberian Peninsula by the Romans.
Redondo-Vega, José M.; Eduardo Alonso-Herrero; Javier Santos-González; Rosa B. González-Gutiérrez; and Amelia Gómez-Villar.
La Balouta exhumed karst: a Roman gold-mine-derived landscape within the Las Médulas UNESCO World Heritage Site (Spain).
International Journal of Speleology,
Available at: https://scholarcommons.usf.edu/ijs/vol44/iss3/4