Tin mining

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Tin mining began early in the Bronze Age, as bronze is a copper-tin alloy. Tin is a relatively rare element in the Earth’s crust, with approximately 2 ppm (parts per million), compared to iron with 50,000 ppm.

A person involved in tin mining is sometimes called a tinner.

History[edit]

Tin extraction and use can be dated to the beginnings of the Bronze Age around 3000 BCE, when it was observed that copper objects formed of polymetallic ores with different metal contents had different physical properties.[1] The earliest bronze objects had tin or arsenic content of less than 2% and are therefore believed to be the result of unintentional alloying due to trace metal content in the copper ore[2] It was soon discovered that the addition of tin or arsenic to copper increased its hardness and made casting much easier, which revolutionized metal working techniques and brought humanity from the Copper Age or Chalcolithic to the Bronze Age around 3000 BC.[2] Early tin exploitation appears to have been centered on placer deposits of cassiterite.[3]

Map of Europe based on Strabo's geography, showing the Cassiterides just off the northwest tip of Iberia where Herodotus believed tin originated in 450 BC

The first evidence of tin use for making bronze appears in the Near East and the Balkans around 3000 BC.[2] It is still unclear where the earliest tin was mined, as tin deposits are very rare and evidence of early mining is scarce. Europe's earliest mining district appears to be located in Erzgebirge, on the border between Germany and Czech Republic and is dated to 2500 BC. From there tin was traded north to the Baltic Sea and south to the Mediterranean following the Amber Road trading route. Tin mining knowledge spread to other European tin mining districts from Erzgebirge and evidence of tin mining begins to appear in Brittany, Devon and Cornwall, and in the Iberian Peninsula around 2000 BC.[2] These deposits saw greater exploitation when they fell under Roman control between the third century BC and the first century AD.[4] Demand for tin created a large and thriving network amongst Mediterranean cultures of Classical times.[5][6] By the Medieval period, Iberia's and Germany's deposits lost importance and were largely forgotten while Devon and Cornwall began dominating the European tin market.[4]

In the Far East, the tin belt stretching from Yunnan province in China to the Malaysian Peninsula began being exploited sometime between the third and second millennium BC. The deposits in Yunnan province were not mined until around 700 BC, but by the Han Dynasty had become the main source of tin in China according to historical texts of the Han, Jin, Tang, and Song dynasties.[7]

Other regions of the world developed tin mining industries at a much later date. In Africa, the Bantu culture extracted, smelted and exported tin between the 11th and 15th centuries AD,[2] in the Americas tin exploitation began around 1000 AD, and in Australia it began with the arrival of Europeans in the 17th century.

Modern times[edit]

During the Middle Ages, and again in the early 19th century, Cornwall was the major tin producer. This changed after large amounts of tin were found in the Bolivian tin belt and the east Asian tin belt, stretching from China through Thailand and Laos to Malaya and Indonesia. Tasmania also hosts deposits of historical importance, most notably Mount Bischoff and Renison Bell.

In 1931 the tin producers founded the International Tin Committee, followed in 1956 by the International Tin Council, an institution to control the tin market. After the collapse of the market in October 1985 the price for tin nearly halved.[8]

Tin foil was once a common wrapping material for foods and drugs; replaced in the early 20th century by the use of aluminium foil, which is now commonly referred to as tin foil. Hence one use of the slang term "tinnie" or "tinny" for a small pipe for use of a drug such as cannabis or for a can of beer. Today, the word "tin" is often improperly used as a generic term for any silvery metal that comes in sheets. Most everyday materials that are commonly called "tin", such as aluminium foil, beverage cans, corrugated building sheathing and tin cans, are actually made of steel or aluminium, although tin cans (tinned cans) do contain a thin coating of tin to inhibit rust. Likewise, so-called "tin toys" are usually made of steel, and may have a coating of tin to inhibit rust. The original Ford Model T was known colloquially as the "Tin Lizzy".

Electronics[edit]

Because tin is used as solder, it is crucial to tablet computers, smartphones, and other electronic equipment. (For example, the Apple iPad uses 1-3 grams of tin, and in just two components of it there are 7000 solder points.) According to Apple Inc., tin is the most common metal used by that company's suppliers.[9]

Production and smelting[edit]

In 2006, total worldwide tin mine production was 321,000 tons, and smelter production was 340,000 tons. From its production level of 186,300 tons in 1991, around where it had hovered for the previous decades, production of tin increased 89% to 351,800 tons in 2005. Most of the increase came from China and Indonesia, with the largest spike in 2004–2005, when it increased 23%. While in the 1970s Malaysia was the largest producer, with around a third of world production, it has steadily fallen, and now remains a major smelter and market center. In 2007, the People's Republic of China was the largest producer of tin, where the tin deposits are concentrated in the southeast Yunnan tin belt,[10] with 43% of the world's share, followed by Indonesia, with an almost equal share, and Peru at a distant third, reports the USGS.[11]

The table below shows the countries with the largest mine production and the largest smelter output.[note 1]

Mine and smelter production (tons), 2006[12]
Country Mine production Smelter production
Indonesia 117,500 80,933
China 114,300 129,400
Peru 38,470 40,495
Bolivia 17,669 13,500
Thailand 225 27,540
Malaysia 2,398 23,000
Belgium 0 8,000
Russia 5,000 5,500
Congo-Kinshasa ('08) 15,000 0

After the discovery of tin in what is now Bisie, North Kivu in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 2002, illegal production has increased there to around 15,000 tons.[13] This is largely fueling the ongoing and recent conflicts there, as well as affecting international markets.

Social and environmental impact[edit]

In August 2012 cover story in Bloomberg Businessweek stated that tin mining on the Indonesian island of Bangka was becoming more dangerous and destructive as cassiterite ore deposits became harder to get to. About one-third of all the tin mined in the world has come from Bangka and its sister island Belitung to the east.[9]

As Tin ore pits become deeper, the number of lethal cave-ins has risen. Approximately one tin miner a week was killed in Indonesia in 2011 -- double the number of the year before. The low income of the miners and the mining operations -- pickaxes and buckets are often the equipment used to gather the ore, and $5 US equivalent is a successful day's work -- have meant safety measures such as terracing of pits have been ignored.[9]

Dredging for ore off the islands shores has churned up sediment which has buried corral reefs where fish live and harmed the local fishing industry. This is despite a prohibition on mining in waters within four miles of Bangka’s shore.[9]

Tin mining by country[edit]

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Estimates vary between USGS and The British Geological Survey. The latter was chosen because it indicates that the most recent statistics are not estimates, and estimates match more closely with other estimates found for Congo-Kinshasa.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Cierny, J.; Weisgerber, G. (2003). "The "Bronze Age tin mines in Central Asia". In Giumlia-Mair, A.; Lo Schiavo, F. The Problem of Early Tin. Oxford: Archaeopress. pp. 23–31. ISBN 1-84171-564-6. 
  2. ^ a b c d e Penhallurick, R.D. (1986). Tin in Antiquity: its Mining and Trade Throughout the Ancient World with Particular Reference to Cornwall. London: The Institute of Metals. ISBN 0-904357-81-3. 
  3. ^ Charles, J.A. (1979). "The development of the usage of tin and tin-bronze: some problems". In Franklin, A.D.; Olin, J.S.; Wertime, T.A. The Search for Ancient Tin. Washington D.C.: A seminar organized by Theodore A. Wertime and held at the Smithsonian Institution and the National Bureau of Standards, Washington D.C. March 14–15, 1977. pp. 25–32. 
  4. ^ a b Gerrard, S. (2000). The Early British Tin Industry. Stroud: Tempus Publishing. ISBN 0-7524-1452-6. 
  5. ^ Lo Schiavo, F. (2003). "The problem of early tin from the point of view of Nuragic Sardinia". In Giumlia-Mair, A.; Lo Schiavo, F. The Problem of Early Tin. Oxford: Archaeopress. pp. 121–132. ISBN 1-84171-564-6. 
  6. ^ Pulak, C. (2001). "The cargo of the Uluburun ship and evidence for trade with the Aegean and beyond". In Bonfante, L.; Karageogrhis, V. Italy and Cyprus in Antiquity: 1500–450 BC. Nicosia: The Costakis and Leto Severis Foundation. pp. 12–61. ISBN 9963-8102-3-3. 
  7. ^ Murowchick, R.E. (1991). The Ancient Bronze Metallurgy of Yunnan and its Environs: Development and Implications. Michigan: Ann Arbour. 
  8. ^ Thoburn, John T. (1994). Tin in the World Economy. Edinburgh University Press. ISBN 0-7486-0516-9. 
  9. ^ a b c d Tech's Tragic Secret| by Cam Simpson| Bloomberg Businessweek | August 2012
  10. ^ Shiyu, Yang (1991). "Classification and type association of tin deposits in Southeast Yunnan Tin Belt". Chinese Journal of Geochemistry 10 (1): 21–35. doi:10.1007/BF02843295. 
  11. ^ Carlin, Jr., James F. "Mineral Commodity Summary 2008: Tin" (PDF). United States Geological Survey. 
  12. ^ World Mineral Production 2002–06. British Geological Survey. p. 89. Retrieved 2009-07-07. 
  13. ^ Polgreen, Lydia (November 15, 2008). "The Spoils: Congo's Riches, Looted by Renegade Troops". New York Times. Retrieved 2010-05-25. 

External links[edit]