Copper mining

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The water-filled former open- cast copper mine Mamut Copper Mine in Malaysia . The crater has a diameter of 1.2 kilometers and is 500 meters deep.

The copper mining began in Central Europe during the Copper Age . From the Bronze Age to the 17th century it was of great economic importance, from the 18th century it declined noticeably due to insufficient deposits . Most of the mines have been closed in the last few decades.

Around 20% of today's world reserves of copper ore are in Africa ( Zambia , Congo and Namibia ), South America ( Chile and Peru ) and the USA (mining since around 1840), followed by Canada , Indonesia , Australia , Mongolia and the Successor states of the Soviet Union .

Production and importance of copper ores

Evolution of the extracted copper ore in different countries.

Copper already gained a central role in pre-antiquity as it is one of the main components of bronze . The development of copper mining and smelting, albeit on a small scale initially, marked the end of the Stone Age . Until the transition from the Bronze Age to the Iron Age with the technologically much more demanding iron smelting , copper mines were one of the central geopolitical resources. From then on, bronze was quickly replaced by weapons in the field of fine tools and decorative objects (jewelry, sculptures), but copper mining continued to be an important economic factor.

In Central Europe there are (globally smaller) occurrences, especially in Central Germany in the Mansfelder Land and on the Rammelsberg in the Harz, in Lower Silesia and in the Central Alps of Austria (Schwaz, Kitzbühel, Mitterberg only again from the 2nd half of the 19th century) geologically related mainly to rocks of the Paleozoic Era . Their mining was significant at the beginning of modern times; on a world scale, Scandinavian deposits (for example Falun ) played an at least as important role during this period. Production sank sharply up to the 20th century and was often only viable from around 1930 with state aid (apart from Poland after 1945).

Historically, European copper mining - as with most ores - was largely the responsibility of the sovereigns. In part it was a traditional local law (e.g. in Tyrol ), and almost always it promoted the development of wealthy cities ( e.g. Kitzbühel , Goslar , Eisleben , Hettstedt , Mansfeld , Schwaz ).

Worldwide, the production of copper has doubled every 20 years since 1900 and has increased 40 times (around 15 million tons per year) over the past 100 years, which is mainly due to the needs of the electrical industry . The soft and tough non-ferrous metal is a very good conductor of electricity and heat and is required for high-quality power lines, for galvanic elements and for various alloys such as bronze, brass and nickel silver or tombac , bearing and light metals (for example duralumin ). Coppersmithing is still an important branch of industry in the Orient today .

In the 21st century, Chile holds over 30% of annual production , the USA and Indonesia around 10%, Russia, Peru, Australia and China 5–8 percent each.

Copper mining in Germany and Austria

Kilianstollen ( Marsberg ): View into an abandoned mine

In the middle latitudes of Germany (Saar-Harz-Schlesien) and in the west of Austria copper mining was used in many places until the deposits (from around 1600) were exhausted and thus became uneconomical . Today, the copper demand is mainly covered by importing copper ore and recycling copper (→ Aurubis ).

Not for copper extraction, but for the minerals and semi-precious stones remaining in the mine and for historical and conservational reasons, some copper mines (such as one at Sommerkahl ) are being repaired.

In the German-speaking area, the following mines and / or earlier mining operations should be mentioned:

Prehistoric copper mining in the Middle East

A large prehistoric mining area can be found near Timna in Israel's Negev desert. It has been here since about 4000 BC. BC to 1200 BC Copper ore mined and processed. The mine can be visited and is probably the oldest in the world. The Umm el-Amad mine (mother of all pillars) in the Jordanian copper center of Wadi Fenan still clearly shows the traces of prehistoric ore mining.

About 160,000 tons of copper slag between the ages of 4500 and 2000 years were found on the spoil heaps around the smelting sites in Wadi Arabah . The copper mines were in operation during the Iron Age  I (1200–1000 BC), until the Iron Age IIC (700-587 BC) there was no copper mining. The main part of the old slag comes from the Iron Age IIC. Fenan's copper mining was synonymous with Cyprus during the Iron Age IIC . Fenan is comparatively small compared to Ergani Maden in Turkey. The famous copper mine in Central Anatolia was in operation 5000 years ago and resumed in the 1930s. In addition to abundant copper sulphides, Ergani Maden is known for up to 1 m long chalcanthite stalactites that form in the mined mining areas.


Several techniques are used in copper smelting :

  • Dry process by roasting and dry heating in shaft or flame furnaces
  • Wet process, especially for poor ores: crushed ore in an aqueous solution, precipitation by iron powder or by heating ⇒ cement-copper
  • Fire refining in a furnace or cooking stove: All foreign components (bismuth, antimony, nickel, sulfur) are oxidized into the slag ⇒ metallurgical or refined copper with 99.5% purity.

Copper mines

The 10 largest (i.e. most productive) copper mines in 2009 were:

  1. Minera Escondida ChileChileChile 
  2. Chuquicamata from Codelco ChileChileChile 
  3. Grasberg Mine IndonesiaIndonesiaIndonesia 
  4. Collahuasi ChileChileChile 
  5. El Teniente ChileChileChile 
  6. Norilsk / Talnakh RussiaRussiaRussia 
  7. Antamina PeruPeruPeru 
  8. Morenci United StatesUnited StatesUnited States 
  9. Los Pelambres ChileChileChile 
  10. Bingham Canyon Mine United StatesUnited StatesUnited States 

Most of these mines are based on porphyry copper deposits .


  • The World Copper Factbook 2012. (PDF) International Copper Study Group, 2012, accessed on May 20, 2013 .
  • Main areas of copper production and trade in Europe: 1500–1650 . In: Hermann Kellenbenz (Ed.): Cologne Colloquia on International Social and Economic History . tape 3 . Cologne / Vienna 1977, ISBN 3-412-05576-X .
  • Chr Mosler: Copper mining on Lake Obern in North America. Published by Ernst & Korn, Berlin 1877.
  • Wilhelm Günther: Five thousand years of copper mining in Mühlbach am Höchkonig-Bischofshofen. Mühlbach am Hochkönig municipality.
  • Christian Groer: Formerly copper mining in Western Europe. Habelt Verlag, 2008, ISBN 978-3-7749-3527-3 .

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Website KSL
  2. No copper mining in Lusatia for the time being ( memento from August 25, 2015 in the web archive )