When did men begin to mine for minerals?

A mineral is a chemical element or compound that occurs naturally in the earth. An ore is a deposit in the earth that is rich enough in some mineral to make mining it worthwhile.

No one knows exactly when mining began. One of the earliest mining ven­tures recorded in history was the Egyptian expedition into the Sinai peninsula sometime around 2600 b.c. The Egyptians went there to mine turquoise. They also found and mined a more useful mineral—copper.

The ancient Greeks mined silver in mines south of Athens as early as 1400 b.c. The Greeks worked the mines from about 600 to 350 b.c. Several of the shafts were over 120 meters deep. Other metals, such as lead, zinc, and iron, were later mined from these old diggings.

To supply their huge empire the Romans mined on a large scale. They had mines everywhere from Africa to Britain. Among the most valuable Roman mines were the Rio Tinto mines in Spain, which yielded large quantities of gold, silver, copper, tin, lead, and iron.

Mining became a really large-scale operation in the 18th century when the Industrial Revolution was underway. Large amounts of coal were needed for smelting iron and stoking factory furnaces, and coal mining expanded rapidly. The development of modern mining techniques started at this time.

In the United States, "gold fever" reached its height in the 19th century. The California gold rush started in 1848. More than $500,000,000 in gold was mined in California within ten years. In 1896 a gold rush occurred in Alaska, and in 1886 the richest gold field ever discovered was found in South Africa. The world's largest diamond deposits were also found there in 1870.