Rammelsberg: Over 1,700 Years of Mining History

Many who question the worth of metal mining seem to do so from a politically derived and often entrenched position. "Without the forces of international capitalism there wouldn't be environmentally destructive activities such as mining" might be a characteristic summary statement of such a viewpoint. In these pages we have attempted to demonstrate that metal mining is one of the most sustainable activities of any society, and that it is not an industry exclusive to any political structure. Metals have been mined to sustain human needs for thousands of years, from Prehistoric times through the Middle Ages, industrial capital driven economies and 20th Century communist and socialist societies. What this indicates plainly is that metals have been required irrespective of technological levels of achievement or political structures. So why associate mining with capitalism? Would there be more mining under capitalism? History suggests otherwise as we have demonstrated with the example of the Soviet Union.

There is no better example of the forgoing than Rammelsberg, Germany. Mined originally for silver in the third century AD it was in continuous production for silver, lead, tin and zinc until finally shutting down in 1988. It is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site because of the unique testimony to human innovation that the mining installation represent:

the mines bear outstanding testimony to mining installations and practices in Europe, both in terms of surface and underground remains, particularly from the Middle Ages and the Renaissance period.

The ores of Rammelsberg were mined by the Anglo Saxons, Cistercian monks, Medieval kings, Dukes, the Holy Roman Emperor and the National Socialists during World War II, none of which can be accused of being capitalists. But they were just exploiting what the ancients had found and were not able to drill to seek new deposits. This advance may well create yet another boom in Rammelsberg as the Danish based mineral exploration firm Scandinavian Highlands attempts to find new silver-lead-zinc mineralisation which would provide the world an additional source of of much needed metal. In the meantime the metal already mined from Rammelsberg, over a 1,700 year stretch continues to be recycled and used. Everyday. For all generations since and to come. This is the true mark of sustainability.