Digging through mining history

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The next time you send a text message you should really thank a miner. 

This is because your smart phone contains around 30 rare earth minerals that can only be sourced through mining. 

Minerals such as gold, tungsten, tin, coltan, neodymium and cerium are required to make your smart phone work. So in other words: no mining, no smart phone. 

Point being: in the modern age we rely on mining to help us make cool stuff that improves our everyday lives. But this ain’t nothing new.

Since time immemorial humanity has always had a huge hunger for what is buried beneath the earth (besides potatoes). So let’s delve a little deeper and take a look at how mining has evolved through the ages by exploring several important epochs in the evolution of mining…

Prehistoric mining

Mining in the Neolithic Age probably involved our cave-people predecessors first finding flint amongst other rocks deposited at the bottom of mountain ranges.

cavemen

Once Grug and his like discovered how useful flint was it soon followed that they were mining for even more of the precious mineral underground.

The Neolithic flint mines at Spiennes reveal early humans were digging for flint from about 4400 BCE onwards. The Spiennes mine shafts were sunk incredibly deep and enabled huge blocks of flint to be extracted by skilled prehistoric miners. Flint mining was integral to Neolithic culture as it allowed hunters to improve the efficiency of their tools, kill bigger animals and thus eat more meat, impress more (cave) girls and scare off potential competitors. My flint axe trumps your puny wooden club.

Mining in ancient Egypt

What is obvious from their tombs is that the ancient Egyptians desired gold and lots of it.

They even covered the summits of their pyramids in the stuff. The ancient Egyptians had some crazy ideas, not the least of which is that gold was the actual flesh of their sun god Ra.

ancient-egypt

With heaps of slaves to do their bidding, pharaohs sent droves of miners out to unearth the precious metal.

The Ancient Greek historian Siculus reports: “The workmen never cease from their toil; they are forced incessantly to the work by bad treatment and by blows of the whip… Two or three people work at each mill. It is impossible to describe the sufferings of those unhappy ones. Exposed naked to cold and rain, they are allowed no repose; there is no feeling of pity, either for a weakly woman or for an old man on the verge of the tomb… they are all struck indiscriminately with repeated blows until they die of their sufferings on the very spot where they have worked.”

Luckily for the pharaohs there were no CFMEU reps on site.

The Australian gold rush

The story of early gold mining in Australia begins in earnest with Edward Hargraves.

Ed had just returned to Australia in 1851 from a fruitless trip to dig the goldfields of California.

Once back in Oz, Ed struck up a conversation with a publican’s son. Ed gleaned from the young man that there was gold in them thar hills (or more accurately at Lewis Ponds Creek, near Bathurst).

gold-rush

So down on his luck was Ed at this time he had to borrow tin dishes to do his panning.

But Ed’s persistence finally paid off and he found gold. What he did next beggars belief as he rushed to publicise his find and thus begin the Australian gold rush of the 1850s.

Clive Palmer he was not.

Modern mining

So now that we have had a look at mining’s history, what does the future hold I hear you ask?

The future of mining can be summed up in one word: robots.

930e

Rio Tinto recently placed an order for a number of unmanned, fully autonomous Komatsu 930E FrontRunner trucks to add to the fleet of remote-controlled trucks it already has operating at mine sites like Hope Downs 4, across Western Australia.

According to Komatsu: “in the future, the trucks will be controlled 24 hours a day from a remote operations centre located more than 1,000 km away in Perth.”

It seems Rio Tinto is keen to turn computer gamers into its labour force via its website http://www.mineofthefuture.com.au where you can play an online game called ‘Truck Controller’.

mine-the-future

The game rewards players who can safely control a truck full of raw material over obstacles until the Rio Tinto warehouse door is reached within a given timeframe (tip: try not to crash into the warehouse door).

Mining in the modern age is seeing the advent of other robotic technologies including unmanned drones that perform geological mapping tasks as well as automated drilling and autonomous trains.

Some industry experts are even saying that one day the whole pit-to-port process will be fully automated.

Mining has always been used by humans throughout history to help make life better. A lot of what we take for granted in our modern world has been produced as a result of improving mining techniques and technologies.

As humanity branches out to explore distant planets who can predict what new minerals we will find and how these will be put to use? The possibilities are endless.

How do you see mining panning out over the next 50 years? Let us know in the Minetalk forums by clicking below:
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