History of Silver Mining
Slag heaps near ancient mine workings in Turkey and Greece prove that silver mining started around 3000 BC. The metal was refined by cupellation, a process invented by the Chaldeans, who lived in what is now southern Iraq. It consisted of heating the molten metal in a shallow cup over which blew a strong draft of air. This oxidised the other metals, such as lead and copper, leaving only silver unaffected.
Silver has been known since ancient times. It is mentioned in the Book of Genesis, and slag heaps found in Asia Minor and on the islands of the Aegean Sea indicate that silver was being separated from lead as early as the 4th millennium BCE. The silver mines at Laurium were very rich and helped support the economy of Ancient Athens. It involved mining the ore in underground galleries, washing the ores and smelting it to produce the metal. Elaborate washing tables still exist at the site using rain water held in cisterns and collected during the winter months.
Extraction of silver from lead ore was widespread in Roman Britain as a result of Roman mining very soon after the conquest of the first century AD.
From the mid-15th century silver began to be extracted from copper ores in massive quantities using the Liquation process creating a boost to the mining and metallurgy industries of Central Europe.
Europeans found a huge amount of silver in the New World in the now Mexican State of Zacatecas (discovered in 1546) and Potosí (Bolivia, also discovered in 1546), which triggered a period of inflation in Europe. The conquistador Francisco Pizarro was said to have resorted to having his horses shod with silver horseshoes due to the metal's abundance, in contrast to the relative lack of iron in Peru. Silver, which was extremely valuable in China, became a global commodity, contributing to the rise of the Spanish Empire. The rise and fall of its value affected the world market.
Silver mining was a driving force in the settlement of western North America, with major booms for silver and associated minerals (lead, mostly) in the galena ore silver is most commonly found in. Notable silver rushes were in Colorado, Nevada, Cobalt, Ontario, California and the Kootenay region of British Columbia, notably in the Boundary and "Silvery" Slocan. The first major silver ore deposits in the United States were discovered at the Comstock Lode in Virginia City, Nevada, in 1859.