Cyprus was known for its copper, gold, and iron. Laurium was known for the sliver and iron ore deposits.
Ancient mining techniques go well back into our history — well back into our prehistory, in fact. As we progressed through the Stone Age, with more and more sophisticated tools and weapons being designed and developed, so too, our need for more and better raw materials for these implements. Stone and flint led to copper, and then bronze, gold, silver, iron… all in the name of progress, war, technology, vanity or greed.
Whether it was copper, silver or gold — especially in Spain — there are numerous ancient accounts of the unfortunates slaving away pun intended in the depths of the earth, sometimes for their whole lives, to retrieve a profit they would never enjoy.
Two of the best examples we have of well-established underground mining techniques come from the Laurion silver mines, south of Athens in Greece — especially important in the 5th century BC — and the Roman Rio Tinto silver mines in Spain, both using mining technology only slightly improved upon from their earlier Bronze Age predecessors who worked these same mines as early as BC.
The basic process of driving shafts and galleries into the ground, to roof supports and inadequate ventilation, continued into the Greek and Roman mines with the latter only really improving the operation once they started digging below the water table — the Laurion mines near Athens never really having to worry about drainage to any large extent because they stopped above sea level.
Some of the early operations at Laurion were simply trenches dug into the surface of the ground to extract the rich silver deposits there. Clays and rocks produced by opencast mining primarily served for the production of bricks and building blocks, which were used for civil and hydraulic engineering.
They were additionally extracted for the manufacture of durable goods and art objects, such as dishes and statues. Metals — like gold, silver, copper, tin, iron and lead — being essential raw materials in antique civilisations, were commonly produced by underground mining.
Gold and silver were mostly used as raw material for ancient coins. The use of noble metals in monetary economy has been going on since the seventh century BC, when barter trade was successively replaced by a monetary economy. Copper, tin and iron was mostly produced for the manufacture of arms, whereas lead was, among other things, used for the production of water conduits and as a stain for ornamental painting.
Some examples for the use of metals: Ancient techniques used for the mining of raw materials Sufficient supplies of metallic and mineral raw materials required systematic mining, since only gold was found in large enough amounts in washes of brooks and rivers to make panning worthwhile.
Other metals usually occurred as chemical components of ore minerals, which were found in regionally varying concentrations in loads and stocks.