Ancient mining in Laurion

Greece is a country characterized by volcanism. But you don't always see craters, cones or lava domes on the surface. Sometimes a magma chamber got stuck in the depths. If groundwater then seeped into cracks, it hit the hot rock and rose again in the earth's crust. In doing so, it dissolved valuable metals. These were deposited further up in cooler areas in thick layers. Sometimes ore filled whole karst caves in Laurion marble. There was thick accumulation of copper, lead and zinc ore.

At some point, people noticed the heavy, dark silver mineral galena (PbS), which broke into small cubes when it was opened. Later, someone came up with the idea of ​​roasting the material on charcoal and a silver shining metal poured out. A metal that was soft and heavy. It was easy to cast weights that were needed for fishing or weaving. If you let the lead roast too long, a reddish salt was formed and something shimmered in between. And this time it was but pure silver!
Silver was valuable and you could use it to make jewelry and coins.

Red-brown copper was also found in a similar way. Wherever gorgeous blue and green minerals shone in the rock, you knew that there were ores. These beautiful, blue azurites and green malachites were also in demand as ores and dyes.

Slowly they discovered more and more places where you could find mineral resources. As early as 1400 BC BC the minerals were used. Systematic mining began in the early, ancient times. The deposits near the surface became less and less. But the demand was getting bigger. So they had to dig deeper.
The first tunnels were dug. They went deeper and deeper into the mountain. Accidents were common.

The tunnels were narrow and often only children or young people could work there. The ore was only hewn out of the rock with an oil lamp and a primitive hammer.
Soon the mountains were hundreds of meters deep. Workers choked again and again and one had to dig ventilation tunnels upwards. Even today there are dangerous, deep ventilation tunnels around Laurion. They are often hundreds of meters vertical.

An industry was slowly emerging. The ore was crushed in processing plants, washed and cleaned of sludge in washing plants. The heavy lead ore sank in small funnels as the useless rock flowed away.

For the smelting, stoves were initially built that worked with the wind (racing stoves) and later bellows were built with which air came into the combustion chamber of the furnace via nozzles. In other places, Charcoal burners extracted charcoal, for which the forests around Laurion and later on the islands were cut down.

The smelting of lead ores without modern filter systems has contaminated the entire region around Laurion with lead, cadmium and other toxic substances. To date, it is not recommended to use local agricultural products.

Mining went back to the 1970s. At some point, deposits were discovered somewhere else on earth where the minerals were easier and cheaper to extract, and mining in Laurion was ended.
Huge stocks of valuable minerals are still dormant under Laurion. Maybe there will be technical methods at some point in the future, without polluting nature and without great costs, to restart mining? Maybe robots will do the dangerous work?

Until then, Laurion is an open mining museum and one of the most famous sites of rare minerals. A group of local mineral collectors still go into the abandoned mine tunnels and find sensational minerals, which are then exhibited in the museums in Laurion and Agios Konstantinos.

You should not enter the mine tunnels under no circumstances! There is great DANGER TO LIFE !!!

Unfortunately, the slags that are of interest to mineral collectors, cannot be legally collected, and the police can cause great difficulties! The area around Thorikos is an archaeological area and so you should respect that you take NOTHING with you! If you want to find minerals, join the local mineral collectors or take a tour.


The Mycenaean tombs in Thorikos
Laurion's theater and ancient industrial zone
Minerals from Laurion

I photographed the small photo gallery in the museums of Laurion and Agios Konstatinos. The local mineral collectors who set up the two museums are very helpful and thanks to Michalis Fytros for identifying the minerals photographed!


Aerial photos of Thorikos
Laurion's importance to all of us

Without the silver from Laurion, Athens would never have achieved the power that shaped our culture in antiquity. Silver not only financed the ancient temples, such as the Parthenon, but also the "wooden wall" of Periklis. The oracle of Delphi advised him to build this protective wall for Athens. But he didn't build a wall, but warships. And then came the enemies from Persia, who had already destroyed the acropolis, and a ruse lured the enemy warships into the strait near the island of Salamina. The Persians had large ships that were technically superior for the time. But her disadvantage was size. And then the Greeks had a lot of small, agile ships that could react faster. By the time the Persians could react, such a small ship was there and set fire to it. In panic, the Persians lost track and the Greeks had an easy game. Without defeating the Persians, would the course of Western culture have taken a different path? Maybe we would speak Persian today?


Mineral collectors from Laurion
An recommendable book on the minerals of Laurion
Video about Lavrio

There is a really good video about the mining area of Lavrio and its people. Unfortunately it is still only in Greek, but I hope that they will translate it later! You can find it at this LINK!


Geological paths

There is a nice app that shows the geology of the area HERE!


Laurion hat sich bei der UNESCO beworben, um die Region als Natur- und Kulturdenkmal zu schützen. Auf der neuen (griechischen) Webseite gibt es alle Informationen dazu. Hoffentlich bald auch in Englisch!