The Copper Mine of Falun

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The 1640 coin I found the other day came to light at an opportune moment. For some time, my wife and I had planned a trip to Falun for the weekend just passed, and that’s where the coin is from.

The great copper mine of Falun was an important part of Sweden’s economic backbone during the country’s century as a major player on the European scene 1611-1718. The mine’s origins are lost in prehistory, but paleobotany suggests that some small-scale ore extraction took place already in the 8th century, and the written record starts in the 13th century. Falun boomed in the 16th and 17th century, with the landscape being denuded for miles around by sulphur pollution and the demand for wood used in fire-setting.

The quarter öre I picked up in Boo was struck in Avesta the year before Falun received its town charter in 1641. We passed Avesta on the train to Falun and back, and when we got to Falun we went straight to the mine where the coin’s metal was mined.

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The mine is a huge crater in the hillside, surrounded by the top structures of a number of mine shafts from the 17th century onward that post-date the open-pit mining. It’s incredibly dramatic. And I really wonder where all the mass they’ve taken out of that pit is now! Have they carted it off for roadworks!?

The mine was closed down in 1992 and is now a World Heritage Site, well worth a visit. Visitors can descend into one of the shafts if they wish, which we did not. Also recommended is the Dalarna County Museum not far away in Falun town, which has very fine exhibitions on regional history, art and craftwork, as well as a good restaurant & cafeteria. It is a charming characteristic of Swedish county museums that they tend to combine archaeology, history, folkways and art. Some have natural history as well.

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Comments

  1. #1 MartinC
    September 8, 2008

    This reminds me of a story my neighbour from back in Ireland told me a few years back. He had worked for a mining company in county Wicklow on the east side of Ireland and while looking through the company records he’d come upon an interesting historical tale from the 18th century. The mine (called Avoca), which is hundreds of years old, had a problem with a particular shaft that was susceptible to flooding. The standard procedure was to dig a horizontal shaft underneath the main shaft (basically come in from the side of the mountain, close to the base). This would provide a drainage channel allowing the water to exit and relieving the flooding in the mining shaft further up the mountain.
    This sort of horizontal digging was specialized and no local team would attempt it (probably for good reasons if you read the rest of the story). What the company did was to contact other mining companies abroad to offer the job as a work contract. The company that accepted the offer was from Sweden (I don’t know how many copped mines were in Sweden in the 18th century but wonder if it could have been this one you’ve posted about?).
    A team of Swedish miners arrived and started digging. They managed to get about halfway through the dig when disaster struck: the tunnel collapsed close to the entrance, trapping the entire team in the shaft. Rescue teams weren’t able to get to them and the entrance was simply blocked up and left as a grave for the men.
    In the 18th century communication between rural Ireland and Sweden would not have been easy and I dare say companies weren’t always so compassionate about their workers.
    I can’t help but wonder about the families of these men back in Sweden, and whether they ever found out what happened their loved ones. And sometimes the thought strikes me of the miners themselves, trapped far from home in an Irish mountain grave, and realizing there was no way out.

  2. #2 Martin R
    September 8, 2008

    Poor bastards.

    There was a famous case in Falun in the early 18th century when they cleared out an old shaft that was filled with rubble and flooded. Under it all they found a guy who had been lying there for 40 years, well preserved by metal salts and fully recognisable to his old fiancee and other contemporaries, who were by that time old people.

  3. #3 Chris Noble
    September 8, 2008

    There was a famous case in Falun in the early 18th century when they cleared out an old shaft that was filled with rubble and flooded

    The anecdote is the basis of two of my favourite stories.

    JOHANN PETER HEBEL: UNVERHOFFTES WIEDERSEHEN (The Unexpected Reunion)

    E.T.A. Hoffmann: Die Bergwerke zu Falun (The Mines of Falun)

  4. #4 megan
    September 8, 2008

    forgive a naive question – what type of rock surrounds the copper veins?

  5. #5 Spito
    September 8, 2008

    Not only roadworks, the entire city of Falun rests on a foundation of dross, it’s everywhere. Which is a big enviroment problem today because the dross still leaks out a lot of heavy metal.

    I think the story about the open-cast “Stora Stöten” in it self is a very intresting story. It was “created” in 1687 when the mine collapsed. Luckily it happend on the Midsummer Day when al mine worker hade one day off. So nobody died.

    /spito
    – who was grown up in Falun

  6. #6 Martin R
    September 8, 2008

    Megan, it’s leptite, “a quartz-feldspathic metamorphic rock that is fine-grained with little or no foliation; formed by regional metamorphism of the highest grade”. Formed 2 billion years ago, they say.

  7. #7 Björn Y
    September 8, 2008

    In the 17th century the Swedish copper mines constituted roughly 60% of the total copper production of the world. And most of it came from Falun.

  8. #8 John McKay
    September 9, 2008

    Did they use the copper to make those falun gongs that I’ve heard so much about?

  9. #9 Martin R
    September 9, 2008

    Dontcha come aroun’ here with yer hi-faluntin’ ways, city boy!

  10. #10 Thinker
    September 9, 2008

    As an additional piece of trivia: the importance of the mine was such that the name of the whole province of Dalarna until very recently used to be Kopparbergs Län – “The County of Copper Mountain”.

    Oh, and of course: the oxen that died after pulling the carts with ore up from the mine were, ahem, transsubstantiated into that, er, delicacy, falukorv – “Falun sausage”. Somewhat less widely renowned than Frankfurters and Wieners – and rightly so!

  11. #11 Martin R
    September 9, 2008

    I actually find Falun sausage to be pretty nice unless you buy a cheap brand and boil it. Thinly sliced and fried, a high-end Falun sausage makes a fine meal with appropriate side dishes.

  12. #12 megan
    September 9, 2008

    leptite. cool. i don’t remember that from geology class, i’ll have to go look at pics.

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