18 05 2009


The contribution of mining has played a big part in the development of civilization, more than is usually recognized by the average citizen.  In fact, products of the mineral industry pervade the lives of all members of our industrialized society.

The chronological development of mining technology bears an important relation to the history of civilization.  In fact, as one of the earliest of human enterprises, mining and its development correlate closely with cultural progress.  It is no coincidence that the cultural ages of people are associated with minerals or their derivatives (i.e., Bronze Age).  Today, products of the mineral industry pervade the lives of all people.

Mining began with Paleolithic people, perhaps 300,000 years ago, during the Stone Age, when flint implements were sought for agricultural and construction purposes.  Primitive miners first extracted and fashioned the stone raw materials that they needed from deposits at the surface, but by the beginning of the New Stone Age (c. 40,000 BC), they began to mine underground as well.

Although records are nonexistent, human fossils and artifacts substantiate an early record of mining all over the world.  Like other aspects of human civilization, mining originated in Africa.  At first, it was done crudely, and then with some technological sophistication.  For example, early miners devised ways to chip and free fragments from the solid, to hoist ores by simple lifts, to illuminate their workings by torches and lamps, and even to ventilate underground openings.

Early people relied upon wood, bone, stone, and ceramics to fashion tools, weapons, and utensils. Civilization was advanced by the Early people relied upon wood, bone, stone, and ceramics to fashion tools, weapons, and utensils.  Civilization was advanced by the discovery of abundant supplies of high-quality flint in northern France and in the chalk beds of southern England.  Culture after culture occupied the sites around the Acheuleum communities over a span of 200,000 years.  Clay deposits supplied material for storage vessels as agriculture was introduced, and the metallic residues from pigments in the potters’ kiln may have provided the first clue to these ancient peoples of the secrets of extraction of metals through smelting. Likewise, salt was recognized as essential in the human diet and, along with flint became a prime medium of exchange that dictated early trade routes.  During the initial development, the use of metallic minerals was in the form of pigments, decorative beads, and native metals that could be shaped into simple objects by hammering.

Eventually, the first technological breakthrough that significantly advanced mining occurred in the breakage of rock in place.  Fire setting, applying heat to expand, and water to quench, contract, and crack rock, was discovered by an unknown miner.  It was a revolutionary advance in geomechanics, one not surpassed in mining history until the deployment of explosives to break rock in the later Middle Ages.

Most discoveries of these useful minerals were made by accident along trade route. However, Egypt, which was not well endowed with mineral resources, sent out expeditions exploring for turquoise and gold as early as 4500 BC, resulting in an era of warfare for the acquisition of metals. The Mycenaeans

followed by the Phoenicians broke this cycle of war and became wealthy, exchanging minerals for goods.  These traders/prospectors sought deposits of silver, tin, lead, copper, and gold, acquiring them by barter rater than by conquest. by 1200 BC They had sea trade routes throughout the Mediterranean work, acquiring lead and silver from Spain, copper from Cyprus, and tin from Cornwall.

By 100 BC trade routes between China and the West, primarily for silk and spices, were well established. The roads passed through many countries and disseminated knowledge of “seric” iron (steel) and metallurgic technology to the known world.  By 620, during the T’ang Dynasty, China had become the most advanced society in the world culturally and technologically.  The fact that mining technology never fully developed in china can probably be attributed to Guatarma (563-483 BC), who taught that “suffering is caused by the craving for that which one has not,” resulting in governmental policies that alternately discourages and encouraged mining.

The discovery of copper on Cyprus c. 2700 BC resulted in the fabrication of tools, weapons, and household utensils made of metal and turned the island into an important trading center.  Wealth poured into the island allowing for luxuries an artistic and religious development.

Work in the mines by the Greeks and Romans, was first done by slaves, either prisoners of war, criminals, or political prisoners.  Easily exploitable deposits were eventually exhausted and mine economics demanding mining skills.  As a result, beginning with the reign of Hadrian (AD 138), the Roman Empire began to recognize a degree of individual ownership and permitted mining by freedmen in increasing numbers.  There was gradual improvement of mining technology through the Roman Empire tat accompanied replacement of slaves by skilled artisans, though villeinage was still practiced.

One legacy largely the result of Phoenician trading was to create a system whereby power and prosperity could thereafter be measured in terms of actual, exchangeable wealth.  In this capacity, gold and silver throughout history have been universally accepted coinage.  Thus debasement of the Roman denarius resulted in its loss of credibility as the standard of exchange, contributing to the fall of the Roman Empire, and by the end of the 6th century, the Latin West reverted to an agrarian economy and abandoned coinage and trade. The center of culture and technology shifted to the Byzantine and Islamic empires.

Charlemagne (768-814) recognized the need for metals and began the mining of lead, silver, and gold at Rothansberg, Kremnitz, and Schemnitz by enslaved captives.  He also reformed the coinage of his Holy Roman Empire leading to the establishment of new mints during the 10th century. As Charlemagne’s empire gave way to more local kingdoms, a demand for precious metals had been created that aroused the spirit of enterprise and wakened the interest in the development and use of metals.  Europe saw a birth (or rebirth) of the traditions originally carried by the Celts of nomadic mining expertise.  This birth was characterized as “bergbaufreihet,” or the rights of the free miner, whereby the poorest villein could become his own master merely by marking his own mining claim and registering its boundaries after making discovery -subject to a tribute or royalty paid to the royal land owner.  Thus the miner ceased to be a serf and became a free person.  In 1185, the Bishop of Trent initiated a treaty where miners were invited to explore and mine that region of northern Italy as free men with rights of discovery.  In 1209 various princes in the Germanic empire granted similar rights to miners.  Edward II of England in 1288, ordered to memorialize the ancient customs and practices of miners within his realm.  Thus the right of ownership based on discovery by a free miner became the foundation for mining laws carried by individual miners throughout Europe, then to the Americas, Australia, and South Africa.

As mining extended underground, the free miners found they could do little by themselves, and thus formed partnerships.  As operations grew, more men were required and self-governing associations were born whose ownership and financial stake were supported by contributions recorded in a “cost-book.”  The cost-book organization formed the model for company organization before the practice of issuing stocks.  Initially,

production was divided among the shareholders, but as treatment and marketing became more complex, the sale became centralized.  When a profit was made, it was divided among the “adventurers,” but when losses were experienced the adventurers were required to contribute in proportion to their holdings or risk loss of their ownership.  Rarely was any money set aside as reserve, and consequently, a decline in metal prices or grade generally resulted in mine closure.

Growing demands for capital forced a search for outside capital and gradually operators lost control to investors.  The miners became contract workers.  Guilds, originally organized by miners for charity and insurance, assumed objectives of industrial aggression.

During the 18th century, iron metallurgy made great strides and made possible the Industrial Revolution in Britain.  Village craftsmen evolved into the factory system and the “Friendly Societies” legally took on the function of the trade unions after 1825.  When public financing in Britain was made possible though the enactment of the Limited Liabilities Act of 1855-1862, British capitalists came to the forefront in financing mineral development worldwide.  Goldsmiths assumed a banking function and issued printed receipts (or notes) payable to any bearer – the forerunner of present paper currency.  Stimulated by the availability of energy and available resources, similar industrial revolutions other countries (France, United States, Germany, Japan, Russia, Sweden, Canada, Taiwan, and Korea) transformed into industrial economies.

The machine age, introduced by the Industrial Revolution of the late 18th century, also required minerals as raw materials and as a source of energy.  Industrial power thus became a measure of political and military power, and the exploration for attainable mineral resources extended to nearly all parts of the world.  Nations’ economies became interdependent.  In an attempt to control the large-scale international flow of mineral resources, various commercial and political measures have been tried: monopolies, cartels, tariffs, subsidies, and quotas, to name a few.  The final result was that political and commercial control over mineral resources and their distribution played a leading role both in the maintenance and destruction of world peace (Leith et al., 1943).

Since the latter part of the 19th century, Britain, the United States, the Soviet Union, Japan, West Germany, and France primarily have developed the world’s mineral resources.  These countries have furnished the necessary science, technology and capital and have supplied the markets.  With the final peace settlement after World War I, Germany lost 68% of its territory, all of its gold, silver, and mercury deposits, 80% of its coal mines and iron-producing capacity, and entered into a period of depression and starvation.  The German economy managed to recover with imported ores and a high degree of technical skill and efficient labor.  The depression years of the 1930’s resulted in economic nationalism and protective tariffs, and many markets were effectively closed.  Since Germany and Japan were both dependent upon international trade, their standard of living plunged, and hunger, bitterness, and resentment flared.  The Nazis came to power in Germany with promises of work, food, and prestige; rearmament began in 1933, and Japan followed suit shortly thereafter, leading the world into World War II (Lovering, 1943).

Local mineral wealth throughout history and social development has made first one nation rich and powerful, then another.  The Phoenicians established worldwide trade and gained great wealth by developing and exchanging minerals for all manner of goods.  Athens financed its ancient wars and “Golden Age” with silver from Laurium, Alexander funded his early conquests with gold from Macedon, the Romans expanded their Empire to acquire the silver of Carthage and the copper of Spain, and the Catholic crown of Spain became a world power by the exploitation of old and silver from the New World.  During the Middle Ages, Germany became the center of lead, zinc, and silver production and the leader in mining technology.  Britain moved into the forefront during the Industrial Revolution of the 19th century and was successively the world’s leading producer of tin, copper, lead, and then coal.  Bolstered by the resources of a vast empire, Britain became the wealthiest

nation in the world.  The greater resources of the United States subsequently supported its advance to become the richest nation; however, the future is already foreshadowed.  Most of the Greek, German, and British high-grade mines are exhausted, and the United States is fast becoming dependent upon imports and preservation of peaceful world trade.  Near East countries have experienced a rapid rise to great wealth based upon petroleum resources.  This has been important in technological developments, but historically of short duration.  New discoveries of high-grade metal deposits are very likely in the Soviet Union and China, but less likely in the United States.




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