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History of Metallurgy and Mining in India

in full-page cartoons

Korean Minjok Leadership Academy
International Program
Lee, Jiyeon
Term Paper, AP European History Class, October 2008

Table of Contents
I. Introduction
II. History of Metallurgy in India
II.1 Early Development until 200 CE
II.2 Early Common Era to Early Modern Era (200CE-1757CE)
II.3 Colonial British Era to Republic of India (1757CE-1947CE)
III. History of Mining in India
III.1 Diamond Mining
III.1.1 Indian Diamonds
III.1.2 Tales of Diamonds
III.1.3 Trade of Diamonds in India
III.2 Gold Mining in India
III.3 Commercial Coal Mining
III.3.1 Early Development
III.3.2 Nationalization
III.4. Present-Day Mining in India
IV Conclusion

I. Introduction
            Mining and metallurgy contributed a lot to India¡¯s development. India has been recognized as a country well endowed with various natural resources. Mining was practiced well in the land of India and along with mining, metallurgy of various metals also developed. This paper will cover mining history of most well known metals: coal, diamond, and gold. History and achievements of Indian metallurgy will also be discussed.

II. History of Metallurgy in India
            Metals were mined and utilized in the past in processes from the use of native metals, to those metals which could be easily smelted from ores, and to those metals which was hard to be smelted. The common metals in antiquity are gold, silver, copper, iron, lead, tin and mercury. Indian metallurgists¡¯ achievements were indeed significant. It heritage in metallurgy is a matter of pride of India for sure.

II.1 Early Development until 200 CE
            Metallurgy in India started during the 2nd millennium BCE and continued also in British Raj, British rule in the Indian subcontinent from 1858 to 1947. Recent excavation by an archaeologist Rakesh Tewari in Middle Ganga valley manifest that iron metallurgy began as early as 1800 BC. Other archaeological sites like Malhar, Dadupur, Raja Nala Ka Tila and Lahuradewa in the state of Uttar Pradesh support this by providing iron implements from 1800 BC to 1200 BC. By the early 13th century BC, iron smelting was already used in India. In Southern India, iron objects were found to be created from 11th century BCE to 12th century BCE. However, these development was too early for important contact with Northern India to take place. Early iron objects such as knives, arrow heads, spoons, bowls etc. ranging from 600 BCE to 200 BCE were found in many sites.
            Bronze Age swords of copper were found to be created from 2300 BCE. These swords consist of bronze but more commonly copper. Many of these were discovered in Fatehgarh. These swords date back to the period between 1700 BCE to 1400 BCE, but they were more commonly used in during the opening centuries of 1st millennium BCE.
            In the beginning of 1st millennium BCE, the iron metallurgy largely developed in India. Technological advancement and mastery of iron metallurgy was gained during these years of peace. The key to successful iron production in India lay in the development of air blast supplied by the push-and-pull bellows (1). During the Maurya period (322 BCE-185 BCE) which was politically stable, technology of metallurgy was advanced greatly.
            In 300 BCE, southern India was producing thee high quality steel by using the crucible skill. In this method, iron, charcoal, and glass were mixed together in a crucible and heated until the iron melted and absorbed carbon. The first of this crucible steel was Wootz steel. Wootz steel which originated in India before the Common era was exported to ancient Europe, China, and Arab world. It became prominent in the Middle East where it was soon known there as Damascus steel.

II.2 Early Common Era to Early Modern Era (200CE-1757CE)
            Indian Blades made of Damascus steel was exported to Persia. Indian Wootz steel which was exported to ancient Europe, China, and the Arab world, came to be called as Damascus steel there. From 3rd century to 17th century, Indian manufactured Damascus swords were obviously articles of exceptionally high value and at the very top of the metal smith's art. (2)
            Also, during the reign of Chandragupta II Vikramaditya(375-413), the world¡¯s first iron pillar, the iron pillar of Delhi, was created. It is regarded as the most important and great testimony of metallurgy in Indian subcontinent. The pillar, unlike the stone pillars, or lats, of Ashoka, is made of iron, and the village is better known as the site where Delhi¡¯s sultans would build renowned Qutb minar and mosque. It is a fact the famously rust-resistant 'Iron Pillar' which now stands in the main courtyard of the mosque and attracts hordes of visitors, many of them convinced that wish-fulfillment awaits those whose arms are long enough to embrace its trunk¡¦the inscription commemorates the erection of the pillar as ¡®a lofty standard of the divine Vishnu. (3)
            A very interesting fact about the Iron Pillar is that it refused to rust. Recently, the mystery of this Iron Pillar was revealed. The high amount of phosphor in the iron (about 1% compared to today¡¯s usual 0.5%) formed a layer of "misamite" which protected the Iron Pillar from rusting. Unlike modern people who use mainly limestone, the ancient Indians used charcoal during iron extractions. It is surprising that ancient Indians figured this out long time ago but contemporary technique still deals with rusty iron.
            During the imperial Chola Dynasty, the statues of Nataraja and Vishnu were built in the 9th century. The casting involved the mixture of five metals: copper, zinc, tin, gold and silver.
            Indian metallurgy under Mughal emperor Akbar flourished with excellent small firearms. Mughal handguns were stronger and more accurate than those of European countries.
            Srivastava and Alam commented about Indian coinage of the Mughal Empire during the reign of Akbar
            Akbar reformed Mughal currency to make it one of the best known of its time. The new regime possessed a fully functioning trimetal (silver, copper, and gold) currency, with an open minting system in which anyone willing to pay the minting charges could bring metal or old or foreign coin to the mint and have it struck. All monetary exchanges were, however, expressed in copper coins in Akbar's time. In the 17th century, following the silver influx from the New World, silver rupee with new fractional denominations replaced the copper coin as a common medium of circulation. Akbar's aim was to establish a uniform coinage throughout his empire; some coins of the old regime and regional kingdoms also continued.(4)

II.3 Colonial British Era to Republic of India (1757CE-1947CE)
            Foreign competition, absence of tariff barriers and lack of technological innovation hindered the development of mining and metallurgy in India during the colonial period. British were aware that metal working played a considerable role in supporting indigenous power in the past through the production of firearms and ammunition. Therefore, British took a step to limit Indian metallurgy and mining to prevent future wars and rebellions. In Arms Act in 1878, British limited Indian access to firearms. Rajasthan, the region rich with metals, were considered by British as an important mean that made Indians struggle so hardly against superior British. So by the 19th century, once flourished mines of Rajasthan were mostly abandoned and miners became almost extinct.
            During the Company period, local workforce of mine and metallurgy gradually eroded as military opponents were eliminated. As late as the Rebellion of 1857, the mining of lead for ammunition at Ajmer was considered dangerous. Consequently, the mines in the region were mostly closed down by the British.

III. History of Mining in India

III.1 Diamond Mining in India

III.1.1 Indian Diamonds
            India was the only major producer of diamonds until the discovery of diamonds in South Africa in 1866.(5) Diamond was first found in India during the 4th century B.C. India¡¯s diamonds were recognized by many people because of its big size and beauty. India's diamonds were mined in Golconda, Hindostan, and Raolconda. The main diamond fields were in Golconda. These sites were mostly alluvial. Among all diamonds in India, diamonds of Golconda were the most recognized. Diamonds of Golconda include the Hope Diamond, Koh-I-Noor diamond, Orlov Diamond, and Sanc Diamond.
            From the record of French jeweler Jean Baptiste Tavernier who travelled through Turkey, Persia and the Indies in the late 17th century, the vivid picture of Indian diamond mines can be drawn. In his book, "The Six Voyages" (Les Six Voyages), he writes,
            "I visited first a mine in the territory of the kings of Visapoor, in a place called Raolconda, five days from Golconda, and eight or nine from Visapoor. All around the place where the diamonds are found the ground is sandy and full of rocks, and covered with coppice, somewhat like the environs of Fontainebleau. In these rocks are numerous veins, sometimes half a finger, sometimes a whole finger wide; and the miners have little iron rods, crooked at the end, which they thrust into the veins to dislodge the sand or earth in which the diamonds are found... After this part of the work is done, the earth and sand is passed through two or three washings, and is carefully searched to see if it have any diamonds. It is from this source that the clearest stones and those of finest water are taken. The only evil is, that to render more easy the extraction of the sand from the rocks, such strong blows are given with a great lever of iron, that they shock (etonne) the diamond and produce flaws." (6)

III.1.2 Tales of Diamonds
            Indeed, many ambitious young adventurers were lured into India and the Far East by the rich that diamond provided. In the tales of Sinbad and 'Arabian Nights', the richness of diamond mines is described well. For instance, in the 'Second Voyage of Sinbad', a valley where its floor is "carpeted with diamonds" appears.

III.1.3 Diamond Trade in India
            Most of the early diamonds in Europe came from India. In the later half of the 14th century, Indian diamonds were traded from India to Brugge, Paris and later to the diamond bourse of Antwerp, Belgium. After Portuguese explorer Bartolomeu Dias discovered the 'Cape of Good Hope', Portuguese navigator Vasco da Gama eventually found a sea route to the India and Orient by sailing around the cape in 1498. This discovery turned out to be beneficial to Indian diamond trade, providing Europeans with an easier route than the Silk Road which was costly and dangerous.
            Along India¡¯s Malabar Coast, the city of ¡®Goa¡¯ became the Portuguese trading center. Therefore the diamond route was linked from Goa to Lisbon, Portugal and to Antwerp.

III.2 Gold Mining in India
            India has long been mining gold, first from the placers and then to the oxidized and primary zones of a variety of deposits. Archaeological data and written records indeed indicate that India worked gold placers and the rich oxidized zones of auriferous deposits. Large scale gold mining stated with the Mauryan colonization of the Deccan by the end of 4th century B.C.

III.3 Commercial Coal Mining

III.3.1 Early Development
            The industry of coal mining in India started in 1774 by M/s Sumner and Heatly of East India Company in the Raniganj Coalfield along the Western bank of river Damodar. From then on, the production of coal came to a sudden drop because of the lack of demand. However, after the start of Industrial Revolution, the introduction of the steam locomotive in 1853 again stimulated the commercial coal mining.
            Within a short span, production rose to an annual average of 1 million tonne (mt) and India could produce 6.12 mts. per year by 1900 and 18 mts per year by 1920. The production got a sudden boost from the First World War but went through a slump in the early thirties. The production reached a level of 29 mts. by 1942 and 30 mts. by 1946. (7)
            After India gained independence from England, the nation commenced 5-year development plan of commercial coal mining. By the 1st Plan, the annual production rate went up to 33mts. During the 1st Plan, India felt that it needs to produce coal efficiently with the systematic and scientific development in coal industry. Therefore, National Coal Development Corporation (NCDC) was established. This was the first major step toward the planned development of coal industry. With Singareni Collieries Company Ltd.(SCCL) which became a governmental company under Andhra Pradesh in 1956, India came to have two governmental companies in the fifties.

III.3.2 Nationalization of Coal Mining in India
            India's coal industry has always produced less coal than the quantity demanded. This shortage situation caused backing down of the power plants and became serious by the growing needs for the steel industry. However, private mine owners were not putting sufficient capital investment to solve the national energy deficiency. Also, the unscientific mining practices and poor working conditions of labor of private mines were being concerned. Due to these several reasons, Indian government decided to nationalize its coal mining industry in the early 1970s. Nationalization was done in two steps ; first with coking coal mines in 1971-72 and then with non coking coal mines in 1973.
            In October, 1971, the Coking Coal Mines (Emergency Provisions) Act provided for taking over in public interest of the management of coking coal mines and coke oven plants pending nationalization. This was followed by the Coking Coal Mines (Nationalization) Act, 1972 under which the coking coal mines and the coke oven plants other than those with the Tata Iron & Steel Company Limited and Indian Iron & Steel Company Limited, were nationalized on 1.5.1972 and brought under the Bharat Coking Coal Limited (BCCL), a new Central Government Undertaking. Another enactment, namely the Coal Mines (Taking Over of Management) Act, 1973, extended the right of the Government of India to take over the management of the coking and non-coking coal mines in seven States including the coking coal mines taken over in 1971. This was followed by the nationalization of all these mines on 1.5.1973 with the enactment of the Coal Mines (Nationalization) Act, 1973 which now is the piece of Central legislation determining the eligibility of coal mining in India.

III.4 Present Day Mining in India
            Well endowed with industrial minerals, India's leading industries include steel, cement, mining, and petroleum, and gems. Among these jewelry comprises the country's second-leading export commodity. Indian minerals industry produces more than 80 minerals such as ores, metals, industrial minerals, and mineral fuels. It is indeed among the world's leading producers of iron ore, bituminous coal, zinc, and bauxite, with 10% of world deposits.

Indian Coal (8)

Recoverable Coal Reserves 101,903.2 million short tons
Coal Production 403.1 million short tons
Coal Consumption 430.6 million short tons

            India is the third largest coal producing country and has the fourth biggest coal reserves in the world. These reserves with the rate of about 0.8 million tons average daily coal extraction in the nation are likely to last over 100 years. Coal is India¡¯s major source of energy, taking about 67% of the total energy consumption in the country.
            Unfortunately, India no longer is able to produce rough diamonds because most all of India's diamond mines were exhausted centuries ago. However, one diamond mine at Panna in the central Indian state of Madhya Prades is still active. The mine is owned by the National Mineral Development Corporation.
            Gold and silver are largely mined from the Kolar fields of southeastern Karnataka, where the gold mines reach more than 3.2 km below and contain reserves of 55,000 kg of gold. The Geological Survey of India newly discovered three gold deposits - in the Dona block, Andhra Pradesh, in the Banswar district, Rajasthan, and also in the Ghrhar Pahar block, Sidhi district of Madhya Pradesh.
            India contains large untouched potential for underground mining with extractable deposits below 600 meters. Currently, India mines predominantly, using open cast methods to extract 64 billion tons from proven reserves situated within a depth of 300 meters. Open cast mining has its advantage in lower operating and production costs, greater percentage recovery and a higher output per man than underground mining

IV. Conclusion
            Mining of various metals and use of various metals in antiquity are very much linked to the history of the Indian civilization. As historical evidences prove, India indeed was a nation which has superior techniques of metallurgy and mining than other countries. Many of the modern Indian metallurgic methods came from ancient practices before the Industrial Revolution. Monuments of metallurgy such as iron pillar of New Delhi demonstrate superiority of India's metallurgic technologies. Also, Indian mining of metals such as coal well served India¡¯s economy with many work opportunities and economic gains. Coal mining especially is well recognized even nowadays. Even though mining and metallurgy was disturbed by British during India¡¯s colonial period, they indeed were the core activities of the Indian economy.

Notes (1)      Chaudhuri 1990 p.331
(2)      Chaudhuri 1990 p.330
(3)      Keay 2000 p.142
(1)      Wikipedia : History of Metallurgy on the Indian Subcontinent
(1)      Keay 2000 p.293
(1)      JJ Kent
(1)      Government of India
(1)      Energy and Environment, Forbes Magazine Nov 27 2006, quoted after Diehard Indian

Bibliography Note : websites quoted below were visited in October 2008.
GoI.      Coal Mining in India: the Past, from Government of India, Ministry of Coal,
CCL      Background History of Coal Mining in India, from Central Coalfields Limited,
KHI      Diamond Mines of the World: India's Diamonds of Golconda, from Kevin Hulsey Illustration INC.,
Kenr      Diamond Mines of India, by JJ Kent,
ML      The Gold, from Minelinks,
EN IM      Article: India Mining, from Encyclopedia of the Nations,
DI      Coal Industry, from Diehard Indian,
HMIS      Article : History of Metallurgy in the Indian Subcontinent, from Wikipedia,
MHI      Metallurgical Heritage of India, by S. Srinivasan and S. Ranganathan,
2 Atoms      The Iron Pillar of New Delhi.Hundreds of Years Old, yet has Refused to Rust, from 2 Atoms,
Keay 2000      John Keay. India History. NY : Grove Press, 2000
Chaudhuri 1990      K.N.Chaudhuri. Asia Before Europe. Cambridge : UP 1990html

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