Mining dates back to ancient times and was conducted by many different cultures for many different reasons and many different types of geological materials that are extracted from the earth.
The types of materials from the earth that are mined come from a reef, seam, vein, lode or ore body.
Ore bodies can contain clay, gravel, rock salt, potash, dimension stone, gemstones, limestone, coal, metals and oil shale.
Mining is necessary in order to obtain these materials because they cannot be artificially created in a laboratory or factory. Neither can they be grown through agricultural processes.
Technically, the retrieval of petroleum, water, natural gas and non-renewable resources is considered mining as well.
The mining of stone and metal is the earliest kind of mining, done since pre-historic times.
The current mining process consists of prospecting, estimate of potential profit, extraction and reclamation of the land after the mining has been done.
When mining is done, it can actually have a negative impact on the environment because of the mining process and the damage it does to the land after it is done. Because of this, there are now regulations created to minimize any negative effects caused from mining.
Since the beginning of civilization, humans have used metals, ceramics and stone from the surface of the earth. We have used these materials for the creation of weapons and tools.
The oldest known mine is in Swaziland and is called the “Lion Cave”. Radiocarbon dating estimates the age of the mine to be about 43,000 years old. Paleolithic humans believed to be Neanderthals were the ones who created this mine.
Ancient Egyptians mined for malachite which is a bright green stone they used for pottery and ornaments. They also mined for turquoise, copper and gold. They used an ancient process called fire-setting, which would break down the hard rock holding the gold. They then crushed this rock into a fine powder and then washed it away with water, which left the gold dust for them to harvest. Mining in Egypt was done in the earliest known dynasties of their culture.
Ancient Greek and Roman mining were done in Europe and have a very long history as well. They mined for silver and created the first aqueducts to do this.
The Romans prospected for veins of ore and used a mining technique called hushing. Hushing involved them building aqueducts to bring water to the mine head where it was stored in reservoirs and tanks. Once the tank was full they opened it and the water would sluice away all the rock and dirt so that the vein would be revealed. They then used the fire-setting technique to heat and soften the rock, and followed that with another stream of water to put out the fire. This would cause a shock that would actually crack the rock, which allowed them to be able to remove it.
Mining was also done during Europe’s medieval times. The mining done during this time was mainly for precious metals that were used for coinage and gilding. Much of the metal they recovered was used for making chain link armor (which could weigh as much as 100 pounds for a single knight) as well as swords, lances and other weapons. They heavily depended on iron for this. They also used water mills for crushing ore an raising it from the shafts, as well as ventilation.
The invention of agricultural implements such as the iron plowshare created even more of a need for metal, creating a significant growth in the industry.
Mining in America dates back to prehistoric times as well. For example; Lake Superior has copper mines along the shores where metallic copper is still found near the surface to this day. The native Americans started this about 5,000 years ago. They used the material for things like tools, arrowheads and other artifacts. They used all of this for their trade network. They also mined for obsidian and flint.
Early French explorers came across these sites but made no use o them because of the difficulty of transporting them.
In Saskatchewan, Canada there are ancient quartz mines near Waddy Lake and the surrounding regions.
During early colonial history in Americas, native silver and gold was quickly exported back to Spain in fleets of galleons. The silver and gold came mostly from Central and South America. Turquoise was mined in pre-Colombian America as early as 700 A.D. About 15,000 tons of rock has been removed from Mt. Chalchihuitl in New Mexico using stone tools before 1700.
Mining in the United States became extremely popular during the 19th century and the General Mining Act of 1872 was passed to encourage mining of federal lands.
The California Gold Rush during the mid- 19th century was the main factor for the Westward Expansion to the Pacific coast, along with ranching. Mining camps were set up along the west which “expressed a distinctive spirit, an enduring legacy to the new nation”. Many traveled west for work in the mining industry. Denver, Colorado and Sacramento, California where established first as mining towns.
Big Bear Lake was initially established as a mining town because of the gold found here by William Holcomb. Holcomb discovered gold in the back country after tracking a bear’s blood trail to a creek filled with gold flakes. He tried to keep it secret, but that didn't last long and word of the gold found spread. From 1860- 1875 this area was filled with prospectors. There are two distinctive mines that remain abandoned today; they are Lucky Baldwin Mine and Metzger Mine.