The first settlements

The first time a man walked along the Tuscan coast was about 700,000 years ago. In the islands the first signs of human presence date back to the Paleolithic. During the Neolithic the Archipelago, which had the same configuration as today, was characterized by significant human settlements. On Elba Island there are proofs of important megalithic cultures.

About 12,000 years ago, the rise of sea level led to the final demise of a strip of land which joined Elba to the mainland and to other islands forming the Tuscan Archipelago. In the eighth century BC, the mighty Greeks attempted to conquer the island they called "Aethalia" for its extraordinary mineral wealth. Unfortunately, they did not succeed because on their arrival another formidable civilization was already there: the Etruscans. In fact, they were the ones starting mining and melting processes of iron ore in Elba, which led them to create and trade beautiful items that are today preserved in various italian museums. Even under the Roman rule, that lasted more than seven centuries, the activities of mineral exploitation succeeded, oriented mostly to the production of war items. This period is well documented by interesting underwater findings, such as the ship below the shallow waters of Procchio or the jars found almost everywhere in the seas of Elba.

The most precious treasure of the island has to be found in the ground; this is the reason why for more than 4,000 years, generations of miners have digged in search of copper first and iron later. Even the island's oldest name (Aethalia = spark) comes from the fires released by the furnaces of iron reduction, which had to be many at the times when the Greeks were sailing the northern waters of the Tyrrhenian sea, during their travels from the southern colonies of Italy to Marseille.

The mineralogical heritage of Elba, surrounded by magical landscapes together with a rare flora and fauna, is part of an environment shaped by its 400-500 million years old geological history that has interacted and overlapped with the human history of the area over the last 100,000 years. The Western world still was not aware about the power of Rome, but all over the Mediterranean was known that between Corsica and Etruria there was an island exceptionally rich in iron. As a matter of fact, Elba island did make the fortune of the Etruscans, the most sophisticated civilizations among the Italics. The population in Elba and the use of its minerals, were more intense during the Neolithic and in the following Metal Ages. As evidence of that, there are: the exceptional Eneolithic burial site of the S. Giuseppe's cave in Rio, the remains of sub-Apennine cultures settled in Mount Capanne, the legends about the Ilvates and the Argonauts. These were heroes of Greek mythology who, on the way back from their quest for the Golden Fleece, founded Argo, the first settlement of Portoferraio.

Indeed, it is in the first millennium before Christ, that Elba enters into the "mining history" of Humanity. Virgil, Strabo, Diodorus, Siculus and other classical authors have left us writings about iron mines and granite quarries of the Greek Aethalia and the Roman Ilva, the island that was in the Sea of Tirreni. Even today the importance of the mining and steel industries carried out in Etruscan and Roman Etruscan age is marked by piles of iron slag and remains of reduction furnaces present in Pomonte, Sant'Andrea, Capo Pero and in several other coastal villages of Elba. And still we remember the huge masses of waste that until the First World War covered the necropolis of San Cerbone in Populonia and the remains of Elba minerals found in Ischia and Marzabotto.

In the following centuries up until today, despite the last closure of a site in 1986, mining activities have continued in the island, with more or less luck, profoundly marking the landscape, the history and traditions of this wonderful piece of Earth, which is Elba Island.

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