Plumbojarosite and argentoplumbojarosite were sources of lead and silver in ancient and medieval times. The understanding of the chemistry of the thermal decomposition of these minerals is of vital importance in 'archeochemistry'. The thermal decomposition of plumbojarosite was studied using a combination of thermogravimetric analysis coupled to a mass spectrometer. Three mass loss steps are observed at 376, 420 and 502 °C. These are attributed to dehydroxylation, loss of sulphate occurs at 599 °C, and loss of oxygen and formation of lead occurs at 844 and 953 °C. The temperatures of the thermal decomposition of the natural jarosite were found to be less than that for the synthetic jarosite. This is attributed to a depression of freezing point effect induced by impurities in the natural jarosite. Raman spectroscopy was used to study the structure of plumbojarosite. Plumbojarosites are characterised by stretching bands at 1176, 1108, 1019 and 1003 cm−1 and bending modes at 623 and 582 cm−1. Changes in the molecular structure during thermal decomposition were followed by infrared emission spectroscopy. The technique shows the loss of intensity in the hydroxyl stretching region attributed to dehydroxylation. Loss of sulphate only occurs after dehydroxylation. Lead is formed at higher temperatures through oxygen evolution.