In the past few years the systematic study of caves intercepted by mine workings in southwest Sardinia has permitted us to observe morphologies due to rare speleogenetic and minerogenetic processes related to ancient hydrothermal activity. These relic morphologies are slowly being overprinted by recent speleogenetic processes that tend to obscure the hypogene origin of these caves. A combined geomorphological and mineralogical investigation has permitted a fairly detailed reconstruction of the various phases of evolution of these caves.
Cave formation had already started in Cambrian times, but culminated in the Carboniferous, when most of the large voids still accessible today were formed. A key role in carbonate dissolution was played by sulphuric acid formed by the oxidation of the polymetallic ores present in the rocks since the Cambrian. During the Quaternary a variety of minerals formed inside the caves: calcite and aragonite, that yielded sequences of palaeo-environmental interest, and also barite, phosgenite, hydrozincite, hemimorphite and many others. These minerals are in part due to a phreatic thermal hypogenic cave forming phase, and in part to later epigene overprinting in an oxidizing environment rich in polymetallic ores. Massive gypsum deposits, elsewhere typical of this kind of caves, are entirely absent due to dissolution during both the phreatic cave formation and the later epigenic stage. Copyright © 2013 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.