Our First Miners

Posted by Daniel on Mar 12, 2010 - 3 comments









Chuck Davis writes:
I’ve been doing some research on the history of mineral exploration in BC, and one of the discoveries I’ve made is that people were mining here 10,000 years ago!

Away up in the northwest, towering nearly 2,800 metres into the air, is our first mining site: Mount Edziza, north of Terrace. Edziza is the highest volcano in the province, but is dormant today. Dormant, but geologists say it has “potential.” Uncounted millennia ago—science hasn’t figured out how many yet—it began to belch out hot, thick, dark lava that cooled quickly in the crisp northern air to form black sheets of obsidian glass.


Today, Edziza looms above the traditional lands of the Tahltan people. It was the Tahltan who, not long after their arrival in the area, began a hundred centuries ago to mine the obsidian, breaking off chunks (like the one above, measured in centimetres) to fashion into tools, ornaments and, sometimes, weapons, for their own use and for trading with other tribes. It has been shown that Mount Edziza obsidian was traded in ancient times with other First Nations people from the Queen Charlottes to Alaska.


A Tahltan web site says: “There were active volcanoes in our country thousands of years ago. They have also helped form the landscape. Mt. Edziza (means cinders or volcano ash and sand mountain in Tahltan) is a volcano cone. Old lava flow can be seen in spots. It has been centuries since the last volcanic eruption, but some of our people remember stories about families who had to move camp in a hurry because of volcanic action.”

Astonishingly, in the early years of the 21st century, the Tahltan are still chipping away at the mountain, these days for other reasons. Tahltan band member and PhD candidate Vera Asp, an archaeologist, is studying the history of the use of obsidian by her ancestors. Obsidian is valued for its cutting qualities: it breaks into pieces with razor-sharp edges. Even today, scalpels made of obsidian are used in some surgical procedures in modern hospitals where an extremely fine cutting action is called for. An obsidian knife, still sharp, was found in the Stikine River area and was estimated to have been fashioned 2,000 years ago. (The word itself comes to us through the Latin obsidianus, a misprint, says the OED, of the word obsianus, after a Roman named Obsius said by Pliny to have found this rock in Ethiopia.)