Archaeology of Placer and Hard Rock Mines—Essential Literature

There are four works I use frequently when studying mining sites.  If you work in an area where you might encounter place and hard rock mines, make sure you have these.

Hardesty, Donald L. Mining Archaeology in the American West: A View from the Silver State (Historical Archaeology of the American West). Lincoln, NE: University Of Nebraska Press, 2010.  Hardesty’s work is derived from his experience in studying and documenting mine sites.  The work excels at describing mine sites, including artifacts and features.  If I am wondering about tailing piles, adits, or site layout, I go here.  Hardesty also describes varies mining processes and links them to site archaeology—an essential part of interpretation. The work contains some astute observation about site interpretation and significance.  For cultural resource management projects that must assess significance, Hardesty is invaluable.   I’ll also add as a parenthetical that I think this is a model book.  Rather than endless detail, it is concise, focused and purposeful. 

Meyerriecks, Will. Drills and Mills: Precious Metal Mining and Milling Methods of the Frontier West. W. Meyerriecks, 2003.  Meyerriecks is a clear and well-illustrated guide to the entire process of hard rock mining.  Meyerriecks details what the miners did, and what equipment they used to do it.  The book’s organization and layout make it easy (and a joy) to use.  If you know nothing about mining, I’d say start here.

Sagstetter, Beth, and Bill Sagstetter. The Mining Camps Speak: A New Way to Explore the Ghost Towns of the American West. Colorado: BenchMark Publishing, 1998.  This isn’t an academic work, but it is a useful and accurate work.  The Sagstetter’s have authored what is essential a field guide to mining camps.  The book covers mines, technology, structures, sites and artifacts.  If I’m trying to figure out a site I’ve just wandered into, Sagstetter can get the ideas started.  I also find Sagstetter the most useful of these three for artifact identification.

Twitty, E. Riches to Rust: A Guide to Mining in the Old West. Montrose, CO: Western Reflections Publishing Company, 2002.   Twitty’s richly detailed and illustrated work focuses on the archaeology of mining methods.    There is a good deal of overlap with Meyerriecks, but enough differences that you will want them both.  Twitty’s book is more narrative and complicated than Meyerriecks.    If I find an odd piece of equipment, a bit of a wooden frame, or a concrete pad with mounting bolts, I might go to Meyerriecks first, but I’ll be checking Twitty for sure.  Look carefully at Twitty; there is an astonishing amount of data in that book.  For example, Table 3 (p.307) list air compressor specifications.   For each compressor type, Twitty list the typical foundation footprint, size and material.  2’x6′ rectangular timber foundation?  Why that’s for an upright 2 Cylinder compressor.  I am not a good enough person to deserve this sort of help!

There is, of course, a tremendous literature out there on mining archaeology.  On a pragmatic level, however, I have found that these three books will get me 2/3rds of the way to wherever I am going.