Social Approaches to an Industrial Past: The Archaeology and Anthropology of Mining

By A. Bernard Knapp; Vincent C. Pigott et al. | Go to book overview

Foreword

‘Mining is a community of occupation, not a community of place, like farming.’ Municipal Judge Neil V. Reynolds, a fifth-generation resident of Leadville, Colorado, was credited with that quotation in a recent newspaper article (International Herald Tribune, 7 November 1997, p. 24) describing the efforts of his home town to raise money from the Guggenheim Foundations in order to support Leadville’s National Mining Hall of Fame and Museum. The residents of Leadville turned to this source because the Guggenheim fortune, the basis for the four Guggenheim Foundations now located in New York City, began in Leadville. In the late nineteenth century, the Guggenheim family extracted an estimated $268 million worth of lead and silver from the mines in the vicinity of Leadville, but all this wealth was taken out of the region. Today the population is one-tenth what it was in the 1880s. As Judge Reynolds put it, ‘Nobody who made their money here did anything for this place.’ Today Leadville stands a bleak monument to the ‘get rich and get out’ mining ethic (as noted by James Brooke, author of the IHT article cited above).

Having had the pleasure of participating in the Bellagio Conference on The Archaeology and Anthropology of Mining, a rewarding experience in every respect—intellectual, social and gustatorial—I believe that Judge Reynolds’s observation goes to the very heart of all the problems involved in any attempt to study the archaeology and anthropology of mining communities. Mining is indeed ‘a community of occupation, not a community of place.’ For this reason mining communities—the villages and encampments of the miners, their families and their female associates—are most likely to be rather ephemeral affairs, created by individuals who always saw their residence at the site as temporary and transitory, and therefore destined to leave little trace in the material record.

The mines themselves, of course, do not move, and mining archaeology—to the extent that it has been devoted to the reconstruction of what went on in the mines themselves—has enjoyed phenomenal success in recent decades. The Roman mines of Spain, the medieval mines of France and the Neolithic and Bronze Age flint and copper mines of southeastern Europe and the British Isles have been studied and published in a series of highly successful research programs. The great impetus for the study of prehistoric mining archaeology

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