Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Mining down in history - a visit to Falu Gruva

Falun Historical Mine (Falu gruva) in Falun and the province of Dalarna in Sweden is a great place to get a sense of many things, such as history, hard work, darkness, and the power of minerals. It is also called Stora Kopparberg (Great Copper Mountain, and the company Stora started in 1288, must be one of the oldest in the world). We went there during our roadtrip to descend into the areas of the mine that was mined in the 1700s and 1800s. First they used fire and water to get the copper ore out (fire mining), then gunpowder, and finally, thanks to Nobel, dynamite. The 45 min tour took us through low tunnels, dripping walls and ceilings (thanks for the hats and raincoats!), and large open rooms inside the mine. Down at 67 meters we saw a living Christmas tree, green and fresh, but it hadn't been watered for 4 years. It had been totally preserved by the minerals in the water in the mine. (More photos from Falun on Flickr.)

The miners had it hard, they had to descend on long stairs or by riding the ore bucket down and jump off at the right tunnel entrance, the bucket didn't stop. More miners apparently died from missing the jump, than in other accidents in the mine. The mining started already in the 1300s, and this area has been the center for the mining and metal industry in Sweden since then. One wall is a guestbook with signatures from many of the kings and queens of Scandinavia. The all so common red paint on Swedish buildings also comes from this mine and is called 'Falu rödfärg' (Falu red paint). It was a mining byproduct and was the cheapest paint available, so it became very popular.

Linneaus visited the mine in the 1700s as part of his travels in Dalarna and was horrified by the conditions and drinking habit of the mine workers.
'Linnaeus had the opinion that the people of Dalarna lived a sober and healthy life apart from those in Falun connected with the mine. The miners often died of stone dust in their lungs. These miners also used to drink great quantities of ale. A new guest was expected to drink, without pausing, two or three great tankards of ale when he arrived and Linnaeus wrote: "your belly might burst, your head crack open and your health, the joy of all life, be abandoned." '

Linneaus was on the trip as the world's first ethnobotanist and noted that: "when there was a shortage of flour, trees were chopped down and the bark ground to eke out the flour. Linnaeus thought the people should grow potatoes instead, but many were still skeptical as to this new-fangled vegetable."
People didn't understand that you could only eat the tubers and not the leaves of the potatoes, so rumors that it was a deadly plant abound. (link to more Linnaeus information)

Outside the mine there were other historical things to look at. The Swedish Ferguson Tractor organization had its local meet with about 5 old grey beasts on display. Inside the Mining Center, you could admire some classic motorcycles, including an old American Indian, an iceracing bike (with nasty dubbs on the tires), and the bike that Sweden won VM in Speedway with. An old Swedish SJ railroad boxcar was displayed on the plaza, painted in the ubiquitous red of course with white lettering and a white royal crown. I have always wondered what all the numbers on the box cars mean. There were also prominently displayed posts with dog poop bags on the plaza - in Sweden the owner is always responsible to 'pick up after your dog'.

PS. Falun is a World Heritage site. The mining stopped in 1992.


Mr. Lebo said...

Sounds like Linnaeus is lucky he didn't catch a pick axe upside his motherly head. Telling him to cut down on the drinking and to eat his potatoes is no way to get on a sloshed miner's good side.

LS said...

I bet Linneaus didn't mention it while in Falun, he probably only put it in his final report, on safe distance from the savage miners...