Mines and Mining in Iran

Introduction:

When an element is concentrated in the crust of the earth, mine forms. History shows that human being always has been associated with natural resources and mines for different reasons. Flint (silicon dioxide, SiO2) is the first element that was used as a sharp tool due to its ridged structure. With the advancement of civilizations, metals were also considered and implemented. Gold is the first metal to be recovered by sand washing in river and then copper and iron were extracted from the earth for military and agricultural usages. Archeological evidences from the historic range of the 7th millennium BC (Neolithic era) to 1st millennium BC (Iron Age) suggest that the first metals were extracted in Iranian and Anatolia plateaus. History of the sedentary in the form of villages with agricultural crafts in Iranian plateau goes back to Neolithic period (from 4000 to 8500 years BC) and the first metal exploration was also happened in this period, i.e. about 6500 BC at Ali-Koosh where located in the Dehloran plain.

Armament and ornaments from the Bronze Age.

Iranian has been able to mine and smelt metals since long time ago that is called as “Shaddadi mining”. One of the most basic methods in Shaddadi mining was setting fire to heat the rock and then suddenly cool it down to create cracks and finally hit the cracks using wedge and sledgehammer. Mining and metallurgy in the Iranian plateau was expanded till the next millennium such that some evidences of modern open pit mining were found in the south of “Tal-eblis” at a place called “Hill Hemi” goes back to Parth and Sassanid eras. Also some metallurgical evidences of large mass of copper smelting slag have been observed in the mentioned areas. Around 3200 to 3600 BC, some evidences of significant changes in the metallurgy of the Yahya hill in “Soghoon valley” have been discovered. In this period, after working with native copper for a while, more sophisticated methods for working with sulfide and poly-metal was developed and the presence of bronze in “Sheikh Ali” mine represents the exploration and implementation of more sophisticated minerals such as chalcopyrite and sphalerite in this area.

Some evidences of large scale mining during the Sasanian dynasty can be observed in “Kookht Yazd” and “GhaleZari” located in north of Lut plain and “ChehelKooh” located in Sistan. Sasanian was completely organized with a central system during the operation of large scale reserves. The extracted minerals from the surrounding mines were sent to a central processing unit which has all the utilities such as accommodation. This trend was continued to Islamic period, with a difference that the overall similarity to the ancient methods of extracting and processing, deeper wells and steep accesses could be observed in the existing mines. Some other improvements are retreat mining, sub-level stopping (though not quite systematic), lighting and ventilation wells. The similar organization was discovered in “Arjin” located in Zanjan province. These kinds of mining preparation which have been implemented since 1st millennium BC have been maintained up to 19th and 20th century when the new extraction methods were introduced in Europe.

During Sasanian period, iron mining by tunnelling and smelting in furnaces was common in an area called “CheshmehGol” valley. The status of smelting slags and Y-shape of blasts indicate the optimal performance of oven and the sophisticated used technology of that period. Gold mining in the Sasanian period using centered groove thorns was done for grinding the quartzite sandstones containing gold. There are many types of grinders and the minerals used to being washed with water after grinding or without washing by amalgamation using mercury. The mercury was provided from the “Sina Bar” located in Afshar Mountains close to “TakhteSoleiman”. The history of gem and mineral mining based on the minerals are described below.

Mining in ancient Iran:

Iron

Archeologists found evidences of the implementation of iron from six thousands of years ago. Numerous iron shots made of natural hematite were found on the “Silk” hill of Kashan around 5th millennium BC. One of the oldest evidence of iron extraction belongs to the period prior to the formation of Achaemenid Empire in “Hanshk” located 60 kilometres north of Pasargadae. Usage of reduced iron by smelting began in the late of 2nd millennium BC and after 10th and 11th century BC; ferrous objects have been used in the forms such as tools, weapons, and even jewels. Investigation in a region called “Hasanlu” shows that iron was implemented for military purposes during the 9th century BC. Iron was extracted from the several metal sources during the Sasanian era and Malayer’s and KooheGhaar’s smiths are evidence for this claim. Traces of iron mining in the Islamic era in “Ghoor” in Firouz Abad, Hamedan, and Damavand have been reported. “Neyriz” and “GolGohar” are also among the areas that have been exploited in the course of iron extraction.

The present major sources of iron such as Choghart, Chadormalu, GolGohar and Sangan have been used in ancient era and some of the small modern deposits are Masooleh, Kavand, Ahangaraan, Shams Abad and Khogan.

Rocks of copper, bronze, iron in antiquity.

Copper 

It seems that copper was first discovered in Iran. The oldest copper mine in Iran is Talmessi copper mine located close to Anarak and by far the oldest information about copper melting was gained from Silk in Kashan.

In terms of metallurgy in the fourth and fifth millennium BC, Persian artisans could provide the enough heat to melt all the known metals in that age and then were able to melt cuprite and malachite using coal. In the Arysman hill large furnaces belonging to the third millennium BC have been found with a large pile of molten overhead which is their main source is Venasheh mine in Qom. Simillar to these facilities in the Iranian plateau was discovered in “Shahdad” Kerman in the third millennium BC. In later periods, metal melting industry is evolving entity, so that in the Achaemenid period, copper and bronze tools were made, and copper coins were also minted.

From the point of view of the copper mineralization, ancient Iranian knew about different type of copper deposits, i.e. natural, vein and porphyry. Major source of copper mineralization in “Talmessi” and “Meskani” in Anarak area in natural copper and some arsenic copper reserves have been reported in “Taknaz” in central Iran as well as “Veshaneh” in Qom. “Damanjala” and “Veshaneh” are copper veins reserves in ancient Persia whereas “GhaleZari” is an example for archeological porphyry deposit. Copper and bronze objects where were found in different part of Iran during the archeological excavations show that in ancient time copper mines were used in different part of Iran.

Copper coins in ancient times.

Gold

Gold usage goes back beyond the millennium BC in Iran. The world’s first gold coin was minted during the Achaemenid period and utensils, tools, and Iranian objects were made from Gold during the Sasanian era. Historical evidence of ancient gold mining were found in “Khovinary” of Azerbaijan and “MadanKharabeh” in the north of ZareShooran, “KooheZar” in Semnan, and “Zartoosht” in the south of Kerman. Evidences show that Kerman was an important source of Sumerian civilization gold during the third millennium BC. Accumulated wastes in the “ZareShooran” and “Yar Aziz” located in the northwest of Takht-e Soleiman indicate the efforts to separate gold from sand and some evidences can be found in “Mooteh” mine goes back to Sasanian period. Currently there are 13 direct resources of gold extraction exist in Iran where have some evidences of ancient extraction.

Gold Cup legend lives on in ancient times.

Silver

Silver was found and extracted in the late fourth and early third millennium BC in Iran. In the Sasanian era, silver work was progressed in Iran and lots of ancient silverware utensils can be found in the museums. In this period, attention to silverware and silverwork industry resulted in the silver mining boom. Since the Iranian was generally found silver with lead ores, lead ore containing silver have been used more and presence of geographical names such as “Silver Valley” and “Silver Mountain” in many parts of zinc and lead ores or “Yellow Silver Mountain” in the northeast of Taftan. After Islam silverware industry became limited and brass wares became more popular among the artisans.

Hunting ram plate designs related to the Sassanid era.

Lead and Zinc

Lead in the Nakhlak mine was considered by Iranian miners since the fourth millennium BC to the first millennium AD. Some evidences of lead mining and metallurgy during the ancient times have been found in “Sayal”, “Arysman”, “Hesar”, and “Shakin” cities. In ancient times zinc was also used as a sulphate beside the metal usage. Zinc extraction evidences during the Sasanian and Islamic periods have been reported in Alborz Mountains, Dena and Elika. In “KuheSurmeh” and “KhanehSurmeh” mines lead sulfide (galena) was implemented directly without melting to produce kohl. In pre-Islamic period, lead was used as mortar in constructions, dams and bridges as well as making dishes.

The zinc statue of the ancient.

Tin

From archaeological point of view, tin has been used to make bronze since late third millennium BC. In ancient bronze objects up to 25 percent of tin can be found based on the archeological investigations. Historians mentioned about seven parts of Iran where have tin mines which are north of Khorasan, Estar Abad, Sistan, around the Caspian Sea, Lorestan, near the Kuhbandan of Kerman and near Tabriz.

The statue of bronze alloy of copper and tin in Sasanian.

Precious and Semi-Precious Gems:

From the beginning of history, gems and jewelleries have always been considered by Iranian people. Turquoise was found in seven thousand years ago in Iran. Archeological excavations have found evidences that show the turquoise usage as an ornamental stone in the second millennium BC. In addition to Neyshabur turquoise mine, Kerman, Damghan, Zanjan, Farghaneh, Kharazm, and Ghaznein turquoise mines are some of the Iranian turquoise resources. Azure was popular during the Medes period where was imagined that it is from a mine close to the Damavand Mount, but no sign of this mineral has been found there. In Achaemenian era, azure was known as “Kabutkeh”. In the Sasanian period, azure’s consumption increases so that the roof of Ctesiphon arch and different statues were made of azure. Azure exists mostly in “Badakhshan” where was part of the Iranian territory at that time. Malachite, which is known as “Dehneh”, was much more familiar before the Achaemenid period in Iran. Assyrians’ writings mention that Iranian revived the malachite and produced copper. In Sasanian and Achaemenid periods utensils and ornaments were made of malachite. Persian physicians believed in the medical properties of jade for kidney disease treatment. Many researchers speculated on the Iranian origin of zircon mineral as beautiful zircon crystals have a yellow or golden yellow color which is called Zargoon in Persian language. Also in the historical documentations “Badakhshan” ruby mines were also mentioned.

Iranian Mines from Islam to Ghajar Era:

All mines where were active before Islam, gradually had benefitted after Islam. During the Abbasids period, government were controlling the mines and their income contributed a substantial amount of government’s revenue. In 340 AH, Coal mines of Yazd, Lorestan and Bariz in Iran as well as Zarafshan and Ghoor in Afghanistan were found and exploited. During the Seljuk period due to the previously mentioned sources, the beaux arts were followed in all its aspects and metalworkers created different stuff. In Safavids period, government directly involved in the mining and exploited minerals. In fact the Shah Abbas first began to actively participate in the mining operations. In Afsharieh period a steel factory in AmolMazandaran was producing bullets, cannon, horseshoes and ship’s anchor. Other documents also indicate the mass distribution of copper and tin mines in Khorasan during that period. In addition, due to the need of a significant amount of iron, ferrous metal operation is considered in that era. Mining operation was continued in the same form from Zandieh period until Qajar period.

Mines in the Ghajar Era:

In the Qajar era, mining took on a different form. During the Chancellery of MirzaTaghi Khan Amir Kabir, mining extraction was allowed for Iranians and it was tax-exempt for the first five years of exploitation. Following this command, mining exploration and investigation was shown a tremendous growth in Iran. Moreover, he founded the “Darolfonoon” and he invited number of foreign mining teachers and experts, five students after completing the mining course, were involved in mining exploration activities. Following the Naserdin Shah’s return from England in 1913, the mining situation in Iran was changed due to the mining grant to the Julius Reuters. Based on this grant, each company that owns a mine, required to sell the mine with a common property price to the company that it has met with the widespread protests and eventually was canceled. In 1919, Mokhberodoleh, minister of science, selected number of Iranian engineers and sent them across the country for mine investigation. This was noteworthy and it caused a boom in mining in Iran and subsequently in 1924 mines was rented by common people. In 1928, Imperial Bank of Iran gave all the mining concessions to an English company called “Bank of Iran Mines’ Concessions”.

Industries and Mines in New Age:

In 1933 due to the development of urbanization and the need for cement, steel and construction materials to build bridges, stations and railway roads, the first cement plant was established in the south of Tehran. Iran’s steel industry began in 1937 and the contract for a steel plant in Karaj was signed with a German consortium, but due to the beginning of World War II and entry prevention of equipment in to the country, the establishment stayed unfinished. National Iranian Steel Company was established in early 1961 to explore iron ore mines and equip them to work for the country’s steel needs. Exploration activities of this company led to the discovery of Choghart, Chadormalo, ChahGaz and Seechahoon mines. In 70’s decade, these activities were developed and led to the discovery of Golgohar mine.

Parallel to the growth of steel industry, coal mines exploration was developed as well. In 1965 an agreement between Iran and Soviet was signed to build an iron smelter and in 1973 the first iron ingots was casted. In 1989 the first steel cauldron was poured in the steel factory of Khuzestan. In late 1992, the decision was taken to build a steel mill in 1974 and Mobarakeh steel plant was constructed in Isfahan.

After the steel industry, activity of copper industry was started with the exploration of SarCheshmeh copper mine in seventies decade and in 1976 National Iranian Copper Industries Company was established and all activities of the country’s copper mines were awarded to this company.

In 1971, aluminium industry was founded following by establishing the Iralko factory in Arak and Almahdi aluminum factory was established subsequently in Bandar Abbas. Required alumina for these factories is supplied from the Jajarm mine.

The base of lead and zinc industry was created with license establishment of Angouran mine in 1922. Lead and zinc syndicate was licensed the exploitation right from this mine in 1953 and different companies were exploited this mine in the following years.

Mining is the extraction of valuable minerals or other geological materials from the earth from an orebody, lode, vein, seam, reef or placer deposits which forms the mineralized package of economic interest to the miner.

Ores recovered by mining include metals, coal, oil shale, gemstones, limestone, dimension stone, rock salt, potash, gravel and clay . Mining is required to obtain any material that cannot be grown through agricultural processes, or created artificially in a laboratory or factory. Mining in a wider sense includes extraction of any non-renewable resource such as petroleum, natural gas, or even water.

Mining of stones and metal has been a human activity since pre-historic times. Modern mining processes involve prospecting for ore bodies, analysis of the profit potential of a proposed mine, extraction of the desired materials, and final reclamation of the land after the mine is closed.

Mining operations usually create a negative environmental impact, both during the mining activity and after the mine has closed. Hence, most of the world’s nations have passed regulations to decrease the impact. Worker safety has long been a concern as well, and modern practices have significantly improved safety in mines.

Levels of metals recycling are generally low. Unless future end-of-life recycling rates are stepped up, some rare metals may become unavailable for use in a variety of consumer products. Due to the low recycling rates, some landfills now contain higher concentrations of metal than mines themselves.