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History of Mining in Mexico

The History Of Gold Mines In Mexico Mexico has a fairly long history of mining which dates back to almost 500 years. Today, it continues to stand as one of the world’s largest producers of metal. It is known as a major destination for mineral exploration. In the late sixteenth century mining industry in Mexico expanded. José de la Cruz Porfirio Díaz, during his presidential career, which lasted for thirty-four years (except for 1880 to 84), brought about modernization of the mining sector among others. In 1884 Mining code was reformed and subsoil ownership was given to landowners. Even though silver has existed as the major precious metal of Mexico, gold was also extracted from several of the silver-gold mineral deposits, mostly of ancient age. The bedrock deposits of the great silver-gold vein system of the Veta Madre at Guanajuato were discovered in the year 1550 and unearthed almost immediately after that. El Oro, one of the leading gold districts but presently without any significant gold deposits, was discovered in 1521, developed to a great extent by 1530, and mined regularly with some interruptions for about 400 years in the following period, generating an output in excess of 5 million oz. of gold.

The miners in Sonoran Mexico adopted a method for pulverizing gold ore that required no water in the primary stages of gold processing. Termed as the arrastre, this system comprised of an upright axle with large spokes that used horses or mules that drug a heavy rock in a circular motion which would pulverize the ore. After the rock was pulverized, the miners then made use of gold pans for the final processing. Mining is now returning to Mexico in a big way as the prices of metals particularly those of precious ones have headed northwards. Rich mineral deposits and the lenient mining regulations in Mexico are also the contributing factors. A new gold rush fuelled by increased foreign investment in gold exploration and development activities brought Mexico's mining output to a record high in the year 2007. Mexico's economy minister Eduardo Sojo Garza-Aldape spoke at the Prospectors and Developers' Association of Canada convention held in Toronto and mentioned that Mexico's gold mining is currently experiencing the "best period" in it’s history.

Sharply rising prices for gold and other valuable metals and the high costs involved in exploration are the two main reasons that are luring foreign companies back to Mexico's old mining towns, where new mining technologies are turning deposits that were abandoned long back, into profits once again. Mines that were shut down in the first part of the twentieth century i.e. in 1920s and 1930s due to several reasons such as labor problems, violence, opposition to foreigners or low metal prices are being restarted. In that period, the mining work was carried out primarily with hand tools to burrow a network of slender and twisting tunnels into the rocky ground to reach the large veins of gold and silver. However, today the operations have undergone a sea change with modern open-pit kind of mines where you can see big trucks taking away scores of crushed rocks, thereby flattening the mountains. The precious metals are then extracted using cyanide solutions.

These modern companies scour entire mountains even for lower concentrations of the metals. A large extent of the new exploration undertaken in Mexico is located in the Sierra Madre Occidental mountain range. Investment by Foreign Companies in Mexico has taken a huge leap to about $700 million in 2007 from a meager $750,000 in the year 2000. The other side of the story is that these towns, which had been once deserted by many for decades and were recently being revived by tourism, are becoming unattractive for visitors due to large-scale mining activity. The end result is that the natural landscape and historical buildings are being destroyed by such haphazard and uncontrolled mining activity although it is providing income opportunities to the locals. Many Mexicans are reaping the benefits, with 300,000 people currently employed in the mining industry, as of 2007. Mexico seems to have come a full circle in mining, now with a golden glow to it.

Contributed by Mike Champion