Ancient Mines

                                      Mining is as old as the hills....

Earliest Evidences of Mining and Trade 
    "Conclusively the miners were pigment or cosmetic miners. And this has been supported from many sources. Among man's earliest funerary practices was the sprinkling of red ochre on the corpse prior to burial. Digs in Europe , the Middle east and the southern Cape show that this was a standard practice.

    There’s a Neanderthal chert mine in Bulgaria, over 40,000 years old, tying with the Lions cave haematite mine in Swazi for the position of oldest known mine."

Ngwenya Mountain Lion Cave in Swaziland

     "Adrian Boshier visited the Lion Cavern site and collected stone tools, made of dolerite which is foreign to the area. The tools were unlike those normally found on a stone age site, being more specialised, consisting of choppers, picks and hammerstones. Professor Dart identified them as mining tools. The tools were not confined to the surface layers but were scattered throught huge depressions which should have been solid haematite. They were lying among and beneath thousands of tons of red iron oxide, down in depth to forty feet or more.....The next question was how old were these mines? The archaeologist, Peter Beaumont, produced evidence of mining in the middle stone age, later stone age and iron age.

     At Ngwenya, Middle Stone Age man tunnelled adits into the precipitous western face in search of iron pigments, the weathered ochreous forms of haematite (libomvu) near the surface, and the harder black glistening form of the ore called specularite (ludumare). In 1967 charcoal nodules from some of the more ancient adits were sent to both Yale and Groningen radiocarbon laboritories where Carbon 14 testing was carried out on it. A date of about 43 000 BC or 41 000 BC was obtained, making this the oldest known mining operation in the world. It is thought these ores were mined until at least 23 000 BC. At Lion Cavern it is estimated that at least 1 200 tons of soft haematite ore, rich in specularite, had been removed in ancient times."

     More “mundane” or “domestic” uses of red ochre (derived from hematite, Fe2O3) are known from the ethnographic record of modern hunter-gatherers, for instance, as (internal and external) medication, as a food preservative, in tanning of hides, and as insect repellent (3–9). Archeological studies have identified ochre powder as an ingredient in the manufacture of compound adhesives (10). Thus, the use of iron oxides for “symbolic” purposes should be viewed as a hypothesis that needs to be tested, rather than simply assumed. 

     Process Metallurgy is one of the oldest applied sciences . Its history can be traced back to 6000 BC. Admittedly, its form at that time was rudimentary, but, to gain a perspective in Process Metallurgy, it is worthwhile to spend a little time studying the initiation of mankind's association with metals.Currently there are 86 known metals. Before the 19th century only 24 of these metals had been discovered and, of these 24 metals, 12 were discovered in the 18th century. Therefore, from the discovery of the first metals - gold and copper until the end of the 17th century, some 7700 years, only 12 metals were known. Four of these metals, arsenic, antimony , zinc and bismuth , were discovered in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, while platinum was discovered in the 16th century. The other seven metals, known as the Metals of Antiquity, were the metals upon which civilization was based. These seven metals were:
(1) Gold (ca) 6000BC
(2) Copper,(ca) 4200BC
(3) Silver,(ca) 4000BC
(4) Lead, (ca) 3500BC
(5) Tin, (ca) 1750BC
(6) Iron,smelted, (ca) 1500BC
(7) Mercury, (ca) 750BC

     These metals were known to the Mesopotamians, Egyptians, Greeks and the Romans. Of the seven metals, five can be found in their native states, e.g., gold, silver, copper, iron (from meteors) and mercury. However, the occurrence of these metals was not abundant and the first two metals to be used widely were gold and copper. And, of course, the history of metals is closely linked to that of coins  and gemstones...

Early Evidence of Mining and Trade in Europe

     "The flint mines at Spiennes are outstanding examples of the lithic mining of flint, which marked a seminal stage of human technological and cultural progress. Spiennes is one of the best known examples of prehistoric flint mining. Its shafts are among the deepest ever sunk to extract this raw material. The exceptional size of the blocks of flint that were extracted shows how skilled the Neolithic miners must have been. The technique of 'striking', which is characteristic of Spiennes, was developed to allow these blocks to be extracted. The quality of the worked artefacts is one of the most remarkable illustrations of the great skill of the craftsmen, who produced extremely regular blades and axes 25cm long."

Mine shafts at Spiennes

     "The Spiennes mines, covering more than 100ha, are the largest and earliest concentration of ancient mines in Europe. The mining site, 6 km south-east of Mons, occupies two chalk plateaux separated by the Trouille valley, a tributary of the Haine. The mines were in operation for many centuries and the remains vividly illustrate the development and adaptation of technology by prehistoric man over time in order to exploit large deposits of a material that was essential for the production of tools and implements, and hence for cultural evolution generally.
Underground flint mining was taking place there from the second half of the 5th millennium BCE (between 4400 and 4200 BCE), making Spiennes one of the oldest mining sites in Europe. Several dates show that mining activity went on, apparently without interruption, from the beginning of the middle Neolithic until the late Neolithic period."

      "The flint so obtained, usually in processed form, was an attractive 
commodity exchanged between settlements and regions, sometimes in multiple directions and covering long distances. Several types of flint mined in the Vistula catchment area were distributed more than 400 km away.
     Mining was practiced by the first agricultural communities that appeared in Europe, and their mines have been discovered in Italy, Spain, and Poland. The Defensola “A” mine from the Gargano promontory in Italy dates to the late 6th and early 5th millennium BC, and it demonstrates a rare system of adit mining.Underground exploitation at Spiennes and Rijckholt – St. Geertruid can be dated to the 
latter half of the 5th and the 4th millennium BC, and is affiliated with communities of 
advanced agricultural economies practising animal husbandry on a large scale. Striped 
flint was mined at Krzemionki Opatowskie in the late 4th and the 3rd millennium. Mining activity at Grimes Graves was concentrated around the middle of the 3rd millennium.  
     The latest of the European flint mines was discovered at the “Zele” site at Wierzbica, near Radom in Poland, where shafts were dug as late as the end of the Bronze Age, around 1000 BC.  ....discovery of other similar sites, including Cissubry and Grimes Graves in England, numerous flint mining sites in France, and the Rijckholt – St. Geertruid mine in the Dutch Limburg."

Mount Gargano mine reused by later cultures

     "The authors present the results of research carried out on neolithic mine of Defensola.  The main features of the structure, together with excavation techniques and finds collected, are described.  The intensive flint exploration at Defensola allows a connection to an industrial type activity, along with surplus production.  The high level of complexity and extensions of the mine are part of a composite regional frame in which flint exploitation lasted over 3,000 years from 8,000 years ago to 5,000 years ago.  In this direction both Defensola mine and the Gargano area played an important role in activities in south eastern Italy."

Arial View of flint mines at Casa Montero
     "The Neolithic flint mine of Casa Montero was discovered as a result of the Archaeological Impact Assessment of Madrid's M-50 highway belt (Figure 1). The site is located south-east of Madrid, in the centre of Iberia. An open-area excavation of 4.2 ha has documented over 3500 vertical shafts (Figure 2), with a mean width of 1m and depths of up to 7m (Figure 3). The site is located in a river bluff, where no contemporary Neolithic settlements are known. It seems to be the result of reiterative short-term seasonal expeditions. Shafts rarely cut previous extracting pits, suggesting that the time-span of all mining activity was relatively short, perhaps less than a few centuries. The flint lacks evident aesthetic qualities. Its petrological composition and knapping qualities vary both horizontally and vertically throughout the four flint layers documented in the site. Flint was mined and knapped in order to obtain blades and occasionally flakes, products that would be finally transported off-site. The remaining waste was dumped back into the shafts...."

Banka Drilling 
This method of drilling is still practiced today and uses technologies that would have been available in ancient times.  The video link below is important to watch as one can clearly see how core drilling for samples takes relatively small numbers of people.  The video was posted by Rafal Swieki who is an expert in this field.

Information video and encouragement generously provided by Rafal Swiecki

Grime's Graves also known as Grim's Quarry is a flint mining complex dating to the Neolithic period with the earliest evidence of activity from around 3000 BC. It comprises 433 mineshafts, pits, quarries and spoil dumps which survive as earthworks covering an area of 7.6 hectares. It is one of just ten Neolithic flint mines known to have existed in England, of which six still exist as earthworks. 

Arial View of Grimes Grave Indentations caused back-filled  settling 

The scheduled monument extends over an area of some 37 ha (96 acres) and consists of at least 433 shafts dug into the natural chalk to reach seams of flint. The largest shafts are more than 14 m (40 feet) deep and 12 m in diameter at the surface. It has been calculated that more than 2,000 tonnes of chalk had to be removed from the larger shafts, taking 20 men around five months, before stone of sufficient quality was reached. An upper 'topstone' and middle 'wallstone' seam of flint was dug through on the way to the deeper third 'floorstone' seam which most interested the miners.

In order to remove the chalk efficiently, the ancient miners built wooden platforms and ladders as they dug downwards and piled the spoil around the shaft opening using turf revetments to hold it in place for the season, when the shaft and all its galleries were thoroughly and fastidiously backfilled to promote stability. The landscape around Grime's Graves has a characteristic pockmarked appearance caused by the infilled shafts. This is probably what inspired the later Anglo-Saxon inhabitants of the area to name it after their god Grim (literally the masked, or hooded one, a euphemism for Woden). Although the pagan Anglo-Saxons seem to have had some idea of what the site was, as the name of the site means literally 'The masked one's quarries,' (or Grim's Graben,)

Once they had reached the floorstone flint, the miners dug lateral galleries outwards from the bottom, following the flint seam. The medium-depth shafts yielded as much as 60 tons of flint nodules, which were brought to the surface and roughly worked into shape on site. The blank tools were then possibly traded elsewhere for final polishing. It is estimated that 60 tons of flint could have produced as many as 10,000 of the polished stone axes, which were the mines' main product. Extrapolation across the site suggests that Grime's Graves may have produced around 16-18,000 tonnes of flint across the 433 shafts recorded to date. However, there are large areas of the site covered by later activity which are believed to conceal many more mineshafts.
There were other hard stones used for axe manufacture, those of the Langdale axe industry and Penmaenmawr in North Wales being traded across Europe

Illustration of mining shaft

Map of Underground Mining Burrows
Illustrations courtesy of

  There is an interestin ancient road that runs from the area of Grimes Graves and Stone Henge.  The road is called Icknield Way and is a part of a bigger network of roads running throughout neolithic England.  The name Icknield has been associated with 'tin port' in later languages.

  "The Great Orme Ancient Copper Mines on the Creuddyn Peninsula dates back to the Bronze Age. The mines were originally dug out over 3,500 years ago by miners using nothing more than stone and bone tools. There are over 3-1/2 miles of tunnels on the Great Orme headland, created as Bronze Age man worked the veins of Malachite.
The Great Orme Mines are possibly the most important copper mines of the Bronze Age yet discovered and excavated. Apparently abandoned around 600 BC, but with some evidence of Roman patronage, the mines were reopened in 1692 and continued to be worked until the end of the 19th century. It is possible that some of the copper from the mine was exported to Continental Europe, even in the Bronze Age. In addition to the three main mining areas, there are many open-cast bell pit mines along the lines of the main geological faults."

Great Orme Copper Mines of Wales

     The Great Orme Ancient Copper Mines on the Creuddyn Peninsula dates back to the Bronze Age. The mines were originally dug out over 3,500 years ago by miners using nothing more than stone and bone tools. There are over 3-1/2 miles of tunnels on the Great Orme headland, created as Bronze Age man worked the veins of Malachite.

     The ancient slag heaps of Cyprus contain the story of the island as a regional source of copper throughout the millennia. Located near the ore deposits, many of these heaps were destroyed by modern mining activities and some are still under immediate threat. Far from the more attractive settlements along the coasts, the slag heaps have only recently been systematically investigated and their dating is still problematic (Kassianidou 2003, 2004). The current UC San Diego-University of Cyprus project focuses on two of the largest slag heaps of the island (Skouriotissa and Mitsero) as well as several smaller deposits, located in the northern foothills of the Troodos mountains...

Modern Day Mining on Cyprus

Turkey's Amazing Underground Cities
     Several underground cities are open to visitors. The largest of these, at Derinkuyu has 8 levels open to the public, there may be as many as 12 more levels as yet unexcavated. There are about 600 outside doors to the city, hidden in the courtyards of surface dwellings. There is some speculation that Derinkuyu may be linked to another underground city, Kaymakl, which is 9 kilometers away.

   "An ancient tin mine was discovered in the Taurus at a site named Göltepe, which was a large village from around 3290 BC to 1840 BC... Cassiterite ore was then crushed at the surface, washed, and smelted with charcoal in rather small crucibles rather than the large furnaces characteristic of copper smelting sites. Goltepe has yielded many crucibles in which the tin was smelted into a slag that contained globules of pure tin, which had to be separated out by crushing and re-washing. The small scale of the crucible operations, and the crushing of the slag for multi-stage refining, make it difficult to detect the scale of the operations. But since over time the industry produced enormous deposits of slag in the district (600,000 tonnes in one pile), Göltepe was probably a major site for much of the Early and Middle Bronze Age."
Excerpt courtesy of

    "In the mountains around Petra, lie the ruins of an ancient kingdom called Edom. For over a decade, archaeologist Tom Levy has been researching the evolution of that Edomite kingdom. According to Genesis, the Edomites, descendents of Jacob's brother Esau, created a kingdom even before ancient Israel. The remains of Edomite settlements cling to the mountaintops and plateaus high above Petra. Tom wants to know about the sources of wealth behind the Edomite kingdom.

     His search has led him down from the highlands into the baking desert cauldron of the Dead Sea Rift Valley. It was here, in the no-man's land between ancient Israel and Edom, that he discovered the clues he was looking for. In an area called Wadi Feynan was an entire valley covered with a mysterious black rock. This was solidified slag, the waste product of metal smelting and on a massive scale.

    Nearby, multiple shafts dug through rock and, far underground, tunnels, stretching deep inside the hills. And everywhere a striking blue-green rock: the unmistakable evidence of natural copper.

    The slag, the mines, the copper, it all added up. This was an ancient copper mining and smelting complex, perhaps the source of wealth behind the Edomite kingdom.
The site is so large, they send up cameras attached to helium balloons to get a better sense of its scale. The aerial photos clearly reveal the structures of the ancient factory: a fortress and gate house, an administrative building, a tower, a temple.

    The site was enormous. Its massive walls, buildings and slag heaps covered an area of 25 acres. Up to a thousand men worked here, day and night, feeding the furnaces where the copper was smelted.  Erez Ben-Yosef is excavating one of those smelters.

EREZ BEN-YOSEF: During the second millennium B.C.E., we have the introduction of this amazing shaft furnace that made this copper production process much more efficient.

NARRATOR: With men working day and night, copper could be produced on an industrial scale, and it was.  Environmental scientist, John Grattan, is discovering ancient pollution, a measure of just how intensive this copper production was.
JOHN GRATTAN (Aberystwyth University): I'm using this instrument, which measures metals in the environment, to see and map where the pollution actually is.

    It says there is nearly 7,000 parts per million copper, just in the small sample I've taken. That's really nearly 7,000 times more than is safe to be in the soil. And, as if copper wasn't bad enough, looking down here, I can see extremely high levels, dangerously high levels of lead, zinc, arsenic. And this is just on this one tiny spot. Imprisoned in claustrophobic tunnels far underground, the miners hacked out the copper-bearing rocks that fed the smelters of Khirbet al Nahas. Above ground, camel trains waited to transport the copper ore to the smelting site.That means that 3,000 years ago, ancient camel supply trains like this probably made their way through these same desert wadis every day, all heading for the largest copper smelting site of the Dead Sea Rift Valley, Khirbet en Nahas.

Jordan Dolmen

     The size of the slag heaps indicates that, over its lifetime, the site produced 5,000 tons of copper, enough to supply copper to the entire region.
Isotope analysis of copper objects from sites all over ancient Israel has proved that they came from the Wadi Feynan area. Copper production involves many different activities—mining, then smelting, distributing—you need management to do that. And that can be done only by a complex society.The scarab suggests that at one time Egypt was an important player here. Based on this and other evidence, like an Egyptian shrine at a nearby site, it's clear that in the centuries preceding Solomon, Egyptians controlled the copper industry of the Dead Sea Valley."

Mining the the Americas

Lake Superior Mines, Old Copper Culture and Copper Shipments to Europe during the Bronze Age. 
Great Lakes Copper Mining in Ancient Times and the Old Copper Culture Below are examples of the forms native copper comes in at the lodes at the Upper Pennisula of Michigan. Because of the copper's purity, it can be traced chemically to Europe in the Bronze age and even to the Middle East when it turns up in Old World archaeological sites. 

   "The Old Copper Complex, also known as the Old Copper Culture, refers to the items made by early inhabitants of the Great Lakes region during a period that spans several thousand years and covers several thousand square miles. The most conclusive evidence suggests that native copper was utilized to produce a wide variety of tools beginning in the Middle Archaic period circa 4,000 BC. The vast majority of this evidence comes from dense concentrations of Old Copper finds in eastern Wisconsin. These copper tools cover a broad range of artifact types: axes, adzes, various forms of projectile points, knives, perforators, fishhooks and harpoons. By about 1,500 BC artifact forms began to shift from utilitarian objects to personal ornaments, which may reflect an increase in social stratification toward the Late Archaic and Early Woodland period (Pleger 2000)."

Copper Nugget weighing 5,720 pounds found at a depth of 16 1/2 feet
in a pit dug by prehistoric Indians on Copper Island.
Notice multiple hammer marks.

     Native Americans mined copper on the shores of Lake Superior in prehistoric times. Between 4,000 and 1,200 B.C., copper jewelry and implements from Wisconsin and Upper Michigan were part of a trade network that stretched from the Rocky Mountains to the Gulf Coast, giving rise to the name "Old Copper Culture." You can see several of these artifacts here on the Turning Points site.

     Easy access to copper deposits - - some of them literally lying on the shore in huge chunks - - was one the features of Lake Superior first noticed by early French travelers. It was mentioned by explorers such as Etienne Brule and Samuel Champlain as well as by missionaries such as Fathers Claude Allouez. In 1739 a French officer even attempted the first systematic mining of copper in northern Wisconsin. After French officials left about 1760, subsequent English-speaking travelers such as Jonathan Carver and Henry Schoolcraft also commented on the abundant mineral wealth of the region...

     The copper that Wisconsin Archaic people used was mined on the shores of Lake Superior. To get an item from one place to another people had to carry it. People may have traveled themselves to the area and brought back the item. Another way would be if people, traders, went to the area and brought the item back with them. Old Copper Culture people probably used both of these techniques to get copper. Archaeologists do know that widespread trading must have taken place because items such as marine shells from the southern Gulf Coast are found at Archaic sites....

Modern Day map of Material Deposits

A wonderful list of a sampling of artifacts found in the region.

Chavin Tunnels Peru

   "In the 17th century another attempt was made to investigate the tunnels, a team went in for several days and became lost in the supposed maze of booby trapped tunnels, only one member of the expedition came out alive from under the main altar of the Santo Domingo Church which had been built over the Qoricancha, the Incas main Temple. The confused and dirty explorer lay clinging not just to his life but an ear of corn made out of solid gold. A hundred years later in 1814, a Brigadier named Mateo Garcia Pumakahua claimed to have explored the tunnels and showed his superiors part of the treasure. He took them blindfolded into Cusco’s mysterious labyrinth to one of the treasure deposits. When the blindfold was removed the officers saw large silver Pumas with emeralds, and “bricks” made out of gold and silver.

Ancient underground tunnels near Chavin, Peru.
    "These tunnels only skim the surface of the Gran Paititi legend. It is widely known that throughout Peru there is an extensive network of underground tunnels. I had the honor of visiting the entrance to one of these underground tunnels in Cajamarca, 1,200 miles away from Cusco...... In 1993, Father Benigno Gamarra, the abbot of the Santo Domingo Church where Qoricancha remains today confirmed “Your information is correct, but the tunnel in question extends much beyond Sacsayhuaman, since it ends in some place underneath Quiro, in Ecuador.”

   In 1681, Fray Lucero, a Jesuit missionary spoke to the Indians in the Rio Huallagu area of northeastern Peru, who told him that the lost city of Gran Paititi lay behind the forests and mountains east of Cuzco. He wrote: “This empire of Gran Paytite has bearded, white Indians. The nation called Curveros, these Indians told me, dwell in a place called Yurachuasi or the ‘white house’.....

... the discovery of new ruins and archeological wonders, the most famous of which occured in 1911 when a young explorer named Hiram Bingham stumbled upon what he thought was the lost city of Vilcapampa. Bingham’s rediscovery of Machu Picchu would prove not to be the famous El Dorado although just as spectacular a discovery.

    One of the most recent developments to prove the existence of the lost city of gold came in 2001. Mario Polia, an Italian Archeologist came across a document written in 1600 by a missionary named Andrea Lopez, who describes a large city, rich in gold, silver and gemstones, located in the rainforest and called “Paititi by it’s inhabitants. He described waterfalls and deep forest surrounding the golden city. However he failed to indicate the location of the city.

     In 1999, Anselm Pi Rambla negotiated with the National Institute of Culture, the palace of Government and Father Gamarra to arrange the conditions for the exploration beneath the Monastery of Santo Domingo in search of the Inca tunnel. Sponsored by Texan financier Michael Galvis (cost: $760,000), the project got underway in August 2000, using ground penetrating radar to map the underground tunnel. The project revealed that “beneath the altar of Santa Rosa, about four or five meters down, we located a cavity two meters wide that we believe can be the entrance to a great tunnel.”
Excerpts from “The Gold of Gran Paititi” by Philip Coppens

We still mine this region

   Iron oxides have been used extensively in the Americas from the Paleoindian period up to the ethnographic present. But, because archaeological mining sites are extremely rare in this continent, we still know very little about how indigenous groups exploited and processed these minerals. Here we report finds from the San Ramón 15 site, located on the arid coast of northern Chile, where our research revealed a prehistoric mine with associated tailings and mining debris that was exploited by hunter-gatherer-fisher groups. The mine was first exploited during the Pleistocene-Holocene transition (ca. 12,000–10,500 calibrated years before present [cal yr BP]) and then again during the Late Archaic (ca. 4300 cal yr BP), representing the earliest known mining activity in the Americas. This discovery has important implications, including (1) the record of undisputed mining activity in the continent is extended by several millennia, showing the first insights into Early Archaic mining techniques and technologies; (2) the earliest inhabitants of the Pacific Coast of South America had a well-developed mining knowledge, that is, they were hunter-gatherer-fisher-miner communities; and (3) mobility patterns of early nomadic maritime adaptations in northern Chile were influenced by repeated access to iron oxide pigments used mainly for symbolic purposes.

Job 28
1“Surely there is a mine for silver,
and a place for gold which they refine.
2Iron is taken out of the earth,
and copper is smelted out of the ore.
3Man sets an end to darkness,
and searches out, to the furthest bound,
the stones of obscurity and of thick darkness.
4He breaks open a shaft away from where people live.
They are forgotten by the foot.
They hang far from men, they swing back and forth.
5As for the earth, out of it comes bread;
Underneath it is turned up as it were by fire.
6Sapphires come from its rocks.
It has dust of gold.
7That path no bird of prey knows,
neither has the falcon’s eye seen it.
8The proud animals have not trodden it,
nor has the fierce lion passed by there.
9He puts forth his hand on the flinty rock,
and he overturns the mountains by the roots.
10He cuts out channels among the rocks.
His eye sees every precious thing.
11He binds the streams that they don’t trickle.
The thing that is hidden he brings forth to light.
The Bible

Thoughts and information collected by Teresa Drusin 2/22/2012