Mining Archaeology in the American West: A View from the Silver State

By Donald L. Hardesty | Go to book overview

2. The Archaeology of Mining Technology

Perhaps the most visible features in mining sites today are the remains of mining technology (images 14 and 15).

Documentary accounts of mining technologies and sociotechnical systems on western mining frontiers can be found in technical and scientific journals such as the Mining and Scientific Press, the Engineering and Mining Journal, the Information Circulars of the U.S. Bureau of Mines, and the bulletins and professional papers of the U.S. Geological Survey. Otis Young’s (1970) Western Mining, Richmond Clow’s (2002) Chasing the Glitter: Black Hills Milling, 1874–1959, and Eric Twitty’s (2002) Riches to Rust: A Guide to Mining in the Old West provide historical overviews. Textbooks such as John Dorr’s (1936) Cyanidation and Concentration of Gold and Silver Ores, Thomas Egleston’s (1887) Metallurgy of Silver, Gold and Mercury in the United States, and Alfred Miller’s (1900) A Manual of Assaying describe basic industrial processes and equipment used in mining. They do not detail the technologies that miners actually used in practice, but the archaeological record does contain information about these adaptive variants.

The technology of mining involves everything from simple hand tools to complex industrial machines. In all cases, however, the technology is used for locating, extracting, and processing metals or minerals from rock. The components include the tools and labor necessary for finding and removing the ore body, taking it to the mill, crushing the ore, removing the precious metals, and dumping the waste. Bruce Noble and Robert Spude (1992:12) note that this process consists of three steps: (1) the extraction of ore from the earth, which includes both exploration and development of mines; (2) beneficiation, or the upgrading of extracted ore with mechanical and chemical technologies to increase its economic value; and (3) refining, or the conversion of upgraded ore to “a state of purity suitable for industrial use, manufacturing, or for commercial exchange.” In general, the process of mining can be understood and modeled as a “sociotechnical system.” Several years ago, historian of technology Thomas Hughes developed this concept in his book Net-

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Mining Archaeology in the American West: A View from the Silver State
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Illustrations vii
  • Introduction xiii
  • 1- Traveling into Nevada's Mining Past 1
  • 2- The Archaeology of Mining Technology 29
  • 3- The Social Archaeology of Mining 109
  • 4- Conclusions - Understanding Variability and Change on the Mining Frontier 179
  • References Cited 189
  • Index 203
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