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News from Bright Ayes
27th Aug 2009  This is not of a Rembrandt painting, but rather a tour of the Sala silver mine.
Mining at Sala began in 1512, when the earliest mining practices essentially destroyed a portion of the mine’s potential wealth, as miners grabbed what silver they could before the cavity they left behind collapsed around them. Then in 1622 they brought in a team of Germans, who had been successfully mining silver and other ores for some time. According to our guide, the Germans said, “Stupid Swedes” and taught them to use the “German technique” of sinking vertical shafts with galleries running out of them at different levels. Using this strategy, Sala miners have extracted a total of 400 tons of silver and 40, 000 tons of lead (in which the silver was embedded). Sala’s mine was the source of Sweden’s wealth in the 16th and 17th centuries. The miners worked 72 hours a week, painstakingly and by hand creating the shafts and tunnels in the underground rock and hauling the ore, containing about 1% silver and 99% lead, to the surface. To break up the rock before Alfred Nobel helped them with his creation of dynamite in the 18th century, they started fires next to the walls every evening before they left the mines. The fires burned all night, cracking the rock around them. Then the following day the miners could loosen and extract the resulting ore and haul it to the surface all day before staring more fires again in the evening. We descended 60 meters into the smaller of the 16th century shafts with our guide and explored the dank dark and chilly tunnels and galleries for almost an hour. We saw the signature of either a King Karl or a King Gustav (I lost track but it has to be one or the other) on the wall of one gallery. It was a tradition that the King toured the mine once each year, because after all, the silver extracted belonged to him. He desperately needed the fruit of their very significant labors to build his palaces, create those silver crowns and scepters, and commission the construction of his elaborate (and disastrous) warships!
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