The use of colemanite ore waste (CW) containing boron as a cement replacement material increases the long-term strength of the concrete. Despite this benefit, the use of CW is limited due to the low-early strength of the CW concrete. The study reported below intended to eliminate this problem. The experimental part comprises two stages: in the first stage the possibility of using CW instead of natural gypsum has been investigated through several tests. In the second stage, a number of chemical activators, namely, sulphonated melamine formaldehyde (SMF) condensates, sulphonated naphthalene formaldehyde (SNF) condensates, Na2SO4, and calcium chloride were used. The results showed that replacement of natural gypsum by CW results in an acceptable initial and final setting time of cement and increases the compressive strength of the mortar at long term. The addition of chemical activators into the system accelerated pozzolanic reaction and considerably increased early strength of the mortars. The results also indicate that chemical activators not only alter the rate of cement paste hydration, but the microstructure of mortar as well. (c) 2006 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.