At the foot of the Mycenaean Acropolis of Thorikos, dominating the natural harbor of Lavrio, in Greece, a French team of mining archaeologists has just discovered an inextricable network of galleries, shafts and chambers. About 5 kilometers of the subterranean conduits dug in the marble and the limeschists of Attica have been explored and surveyed. These lead to labyrinths of complex mining works the height of which often does not exceed 30 cm. This reports Heritage Daily.

The mine that has been discovered in Thorikos is exceptional in its lay-out and extension. Up to now mining archaeologists working in the Laurion area did not explore such a complex network of galleries and mining infrastructure. The finds constitute at present the widest underground network explored in this part of the Aegean world. The scientists also employed a drone to locate above-ground installations connected to the mining. These subterranean investigations are part of a larger archaeological research program on the site of Thorikos directed by Prof. Roald Docter of Ghent University under the auspices of the Belgian School at Athens, the University of Utrecht and the Ephorate of Eastern Attica.

Already exploited since the 4th / 3rd millennium BC, by the 5th and 4th centuries BC these silver mines constituted the most important mining district of Greece, laying at the basis of Athens’ domination of the Aegean world. The 2015 underground survey campaign brought new information on the mining techniques developed since the first metal ages in this strategic zone of the eastern Mediterranean.

The Classical phase is by far the most perceptible; omnipresent, it is remarkable by the regularity of the sections of divided galleries that cover the whole space. Fragments of pottery and oil lamps, and even a Greek inscription engraved on a wall, testify to the activities in this period. Conduits cut with pointed tools, of quadrangular shape, cutting of the rock in successive stages, such are the characteristics of these particularly well organized mining works. This resumption of the works at the end of Classical period (4th century BC) is dated by the tool marks in the galleries and the ceramic remains.

Shafts discovered inside this network connect two main levels of mineralization’s, and hence of extraction. Of perfect geometrical architecture, executed to the millimeter, their technique of construction is still investigated by the archaeologists. They show the physical capacities and skills of the ancient miners to exploit these complex ore deposits and to assure ore dressing activities outside the mine from the Prehistory on. It testifies to a deliberate strategy and to perfect technological and spatial control over the process: an exceptional concentration of means to extract silver and a sophisticated technical system that in its scale is unique within the ancient world.

The ongoing research not only aims to survey these subterranean remains, but it will also allow to understand the mining technologies of these early periods, the management of mineral resources, their extraction and processing as well as the circulation of the end product.