Did you know that the oldest known mine is a coal mine in southern Africa, dating back tens of thousands of years? People have been mining for centuries, yet mining didn’t become an established industry until about ten thousand years ago. From mining’s early stages until now, it’s incredible to think about how far the industry and mining technology have come. From primitive digging tools to automated mining equipment, let’s dive into a brief history of mining and mining technology.
Mining became a critical industry around the time that Mediterranean civilizations emerged. Silver mines made ancient Athens a wealthy city and eventually caused Sparta and the Romans to pursue the mines. The Romans, in particular, used the silver mines to create military items.
A Growing Need for Mines
Next up on our history of mining and mining technology is the realization that civilization needs mines to succeed. As Europe expanded, so did mining. Governments realized the financial benefits of these mines and charged miners a tax of sorts on whatever minerals they managed to extract. As time moved on, people began to realize how important mines were to civilization. They produced necessities such as coal and metal and were a vital part of healthy economies. The wealth from these economies paid for the Renaissance.
The Industrial Age
Mining in the Americas became one of the biggest factors in the expansion of the New World. After hundreds of years of mining, the General Mining Act of 1872 was established. This act gave much-needed structure and incentive to miners and prospectors. It also led us to build railroads, bridges, and cities.
Technology Used in Mining
The first mines were carved out by hand or with tools made of stone. Next, the pick and hammer were developed. Fascinatingly, miners discovered that fire helped them clear through rock quickly. Miners placed logs close to the rock face and set them on fire, which caused the stone to weaken and crack.
Soon after the fire method came explosives. Miners in the Middle Ages used black powder, which was used until the 1800s when it was replaced by dynamite. At the same time, technology was advancing to develop motorized tools such as drills and lifts. During the Industrial Revolution, these drills became mechanical and were powered by pistons first, then by compressed air. Electric conveyor belts and mine cars emerged. Candles and oil lamps were replaced by gas lamps, then battery-operated lamps.
Today, we enjoy these battery-operated lamps. We also utilize heavy equipment that crushes and grinds ore, transports materials on our behalf, and even does the hard work for us. We also use automated vehicles controlled by humans above the mine that perform dangerous tasks, improving workers’ safety.