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The village of Wanlockhead in the Leadhills has been a centre of lead mining for at least 800 years (and may well date back to Roman times). Between the 1600’s and the 1950’s, lead was mined commercially from several locations and was the most important ore deposit in Scotland. However, among mineralogists, the site is famous for the discovery of several new, rare species over the last two centuries from the main ore bodies of lead, copper and zinc.
Mine dumps – the Leadhills-Wanlockhead district is the most important lead-zinc deposit in Scotland. Over 60 mineral species have been identified making this the most prolific Scottish mineral locality. Primary sulphide ore minerals include galena, sphalerite, chalcopyrite and pyrite, but it is for the rare secondary minerals that the site is world-renowned. © BGS/NERC
The ore bodies are found in more than 70 mineral-rich veins, which generally trend NNW-SSE. The average width of the veins is 1m, although the largest is 4.3m thick. The local country rocks are Ordovician volcaniclastic greywackes, black shales and cherts, and the veins themselves are in brecciated greywackes. Two phases of mineralisation occurred. A non-metalliferous phase occurred in association with the closure of the Iapetus Ocean during the Silurian, but the metalliferous phase did not occur until the mid-Carboniferous.
The productive minerals were:
- Galena (lead ore): 300 000 tonnes metallic lead
- Sphalerite (zinc ore): 10 000 tonnes
- Silver: 25 tonnes
Over 70 mineral species have been found, including quartz, ankerite, barite, calcite, pyrite and chalcopyrite. Secondary minerals have included cerussite, pyromorphite and the rare, veszelyite (copper-zinc). This site is the type locality for: caledonite, chenite, lanarkite, leadhillite, macphersonite, mattheddleite, plattnerite, scotlandite and susannite (all secondary lead minerals).
Gold and silver have also been found in the area in considerable quantities in the past, though today, quantities found are much smaller. However, the area is the Scottish location of the annual Gold Panning World Championships.
Wanlockhead Museum – a visitor attraction providing an insight into the process of lead mining and the lives of the miners and their families who came to this remote spot. The lead mining museum is run by the Wanlockhead Museum Trust. © Scottish Natural Heritage.
Trewin, N. H. (ed.) 2002. The Geology of Scotland. The Geological Society, London.