How long has mining been around?
The question "When did mining start?" is not easy to answer, since written records go back barely 1 millennium.
To answer the question "What was before?" one has to rely on archaeologists and often on dedicated miners who are looking for traces of the past.
People have known how to use the natural resources of the Alps for at least 6000 years . That's how old Austria's oldest mine is in Mauer near Vienna , where flint was mined. 12 m deep shafts, stretches and cross passages as well as large heaps still bear witness to the activities of Stone Age miners.
A number of copper mines from Schwaz in Tyrol via the Kelchalm near Kitzbühel to Mühlbach am Hochkönig were already in operation in the Bronze Age 4000 years ago . A total of 3.3 million tons of raw ore were extracted and around 50,000 tons of copper were smelted. Eastern Alpine copper production was of European importance.
3000 years ago, salt was mined in Hallstatt . And in Roman times, Noric iron from Carinthia and Tauern gold were coveted trade products.
Evidence of early mining activity is the glacier man "Ötzi" . Extremely high concentrations of copper and nickel were found in the hair of the man who died 5,300 years ago. This suggests that Ötzi worked in ore smelting . In addition, Ötzi was armed with an East Alpine copper ax.
Also in other parts of the world there are interesting, sometimes much, much older traces of mining.
The oldest pit map, for example, dates from the time of the Egyptian ruler Ramses IV, who lived 3,300 years ago. It shows roads, gold mines and miners' dwellings.
In North America from 3000 - 1200 B.C. About 500,000 tons of copper ore were mined by an unknown people on the Isle Royale in Michigan. However, the associated copper was never found. Where the not inconsiderable amount of copper went to will probably remain a great mystery of archeology.
The world's oldest traces of mining can be found where mankind originated - namely in Africa. Unfortunately, much of the past lies in the dark on the black continent. Records from the pre-colonial period are practically non-existent. Most finds of prehistoric mining were only made in the course of modern large-scale mining.
The roots of classic mining lie in southern Africa in the Ngwenya Mountains in today's Swaziland. It is home to one of the oldest underground mines in the world, dating back an incredible 43,000 years .
The object of the extensive mining, which reached a depth of up to 30m, was hematite in the form of silvery micaceous iron mica. The iron ore was crushed in stone mortars and probably used for cultic-cosmetic purposes. There is no doubt that the Stone Age hunters rubbed their faces, hands and bodies with mineral paints and then made the cave paintings, which are still colorful today. During the nearly 20,000-year mining period, several thousand tons of ore were mined in the Ngwenya Mountains.
As a last example, I would like to mention the discovery of a Rhodesia man, a 200,000-year-old early human form . Bones and teeth of this early human have been discovered in a limestone cave opened up by mining at Broken Hill in Zambia.
The living space of this man was unique:
Zinc and lead phosphate crystals literally littered the ceiling of his den. So there is a suspicion that he really is the oldest miner in the world!
Mining has shaped the fortunes of people for thousands of years. Without it, progress and prosperity would be unthinkable. Miners can rightly be proud of having inherited a profession that is thousands of years old.