The area of Anatolia (modern Turkey) is considered the first major source of mined silver, having provided the resource to craftsmen throughout Asia Minor. It served as the major source of silver for the Western cultures flourishing in Crete and Greece.
Silver craftsmanship was centered mainly in Asia Minor and Greek Islands as well as mainland Greece dominated by the Mycenaean culture.
The first real success to mine silver began sometime after 3000 B.C. But the Chaldeans in about 2500 are recognised as the first to use the sophisticated processing of silver ore with a "cupellation" process to extract silver from lead-silver ores. The need for traditional silver for the flourishing Minoan and later Mycenaean civilizations resulted in exploitation of silver deposits in what is now Armenia
After the catastrophic destruction of the Minoan civilization in 1600 B.C. and the decline of the Mycenaean culture around 1200 B.C., the focus of silver production changed. The mines of Laurium (near Athens) became the leading production center and provided silver for the burgeoning Greek civilization. Further, the silver trade throughout Asia Minor and North Africa expanded significantly after the 8th century B.C.
The Laurium mines were highly productive, estimates from historical writings and physical evidence from old mine dumps indicate silver production to have been about 1 million troy ounces per year at Laurium during the height if production (600 B.C. to 300 B.C.). In fact, for about 1,000 years ending around the 1st century A.D., the Laurium mines were the largest individual source of world silver production. Outside the Laurium mines, production was concentrated mainly in Asia Minor, Sardinia, other Grecian locations and, to a limited extent, in Asia.
The period following the heyday of Greek mining in Laurium included the Carthaginiansí exploitation of Spanish silver. After the Punic Wars, the Romans replaced the Carthaginians as the exploiters of Spanish silver and extended silver mining to other areas of continental Europe.
Spanish mines became a critically important source of silver for nearly 1,000 years, thought their exploitation was halted temporarily by the Moorish conquest of Spain in the 8th century A.D. The Spanish mines not only provided a substantial portion of the domestic needs of the Roman Empire but also served as a critical source of silver for the Asian spice trade. To meet the burgeoning trading requirements, Greece, Asia Minor, and Italy supplemented the Spanish production.
The Moorish invasion of Spain necessitated that the exploitation of silver move to a broader spectrum of countries, principally in Central Europe. Several major silver mine discoveries occurred between 750 and 1200 A.D., including the classic Schemnitz, Rammelsburg, Goslar, and Saxony regions in Germany. Concurrently, discoveries of silver were made in Austria-Hungary and elsewhere in Eastern Europe.
Based on the analysis of available literature and historical records, the production levels from 300 B.C. to 1000 A.D. are not likely to have risen significantly from the estimated 1.5 million troy ounces per year levels of the Laurium mine era. Although mine production in Spain dominated the first 1,000 years A.D., it was balanced by the decline in production at Laurium and Asia Minor. The real expansion in production occurred in the 500-year period from 1000-1500 A.D., when the number of mining locations increased, and mining and processing technology began to improve.
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