The exhibition is a recreation of an historic mine in Sweden, which, for the visitor, simulates the experience of being in a real mine—it is dimly lit, with narrow walkways and strange noises, and dirty miners sometimes appear through the darkness.
Visitors enter the exhibition by descending stairs from the museum into the central mine shaft. In this part of the mine, the walls are shored up with logs and the ceiling is supported by stout vertical beams. Electric lights simulate oil lamps. Generally, the central shaft was the safest place in the mine.
Getting in and out of the mine
The stairs are for the convenience of today’s visitors. In working mines of this period, miners more typically entered and left the mine shaft using ladders or in the cage.
The mine cage, or elevator, was installed in 1938 as part of the original exhibition. The cage travels only a few metres but gives the illusion that it is descending far underground.
Fire-setting and retrieving ore
For a long time in Swedish mining history, using fire to open up a mine was the way to go. Fires were lit in different parts of the mine and left to burn for hours, causing the rock to break apart in fine sections.
Early in the morning, a few workers were sent down to perform the dangerous task of putting out the fires.
In the process, they might be exposed to toxic substances like arsenic, lead and sulphur. Despite this danger, fire-setting was so popular that it was used as late as the 19th century. It was relatively cheap and required fewer workers than mines where explosives were used.
Fire-setting took place late in the evening, after the day's work was done. Wood was either stacked against the wall and burned to cause the rock to break apart horizontally or it was laid on the ground and burned to make the rock break vertically and expand the mine downwards.
Traditionally, it was not only men who worked in the mines, but also women and children. It was not until the 16th or 17th centuries that rules were set in place in Sweden barring children under the age of 12 from working in mines—rules that were not always enforced.
Mines were dark places to work until the invention of electric lights. Torches like this one gave off just a little light in an otherwise dark and damp environment. To get torches down the ladders, workers carried them in their mouths, sometimes resulting in scorched faces.
A common problem in mines is water. If you dig a hole where the earth holds groundwater, the hole fills with water. For a long time, the solution to the groundwater problem was, simply, to stop excavating the mine when you hit water and start digging somewhere else.
But in the 16th century, the scale of mining operations increased, mines grew huge, and a new technology was invented to deal with water: the pumping station.
This pump is a suction and lifting pump. The idea is to pump water from further down in the mine up to the tub. From there, a connecting section of the pump carries the water out of the mine.
The blaster counted the explosions while protected in the blasting hut made of heavy logs. If any of the charges didn’t detonate, the miners had to wait here until the danger had passed.
Introduction of explosives
Although fire-setting was still used to excavate mines in the 19th century, in many places it had been replaced by the use of explosives. Explosive powders like black powder were used in warfare during medieval times but weren’t introduced in Swedish mines until the 17th century
At first, only places without ready access to firewood started adopting this new method, but as time went by more and more mines started using explosives, which meant that new elements were added to the work.
Using explosive powder in mines called for drilling holes in the rockface into which the powder was placed. Before modern drills were invented, drilling was done by repeatedly striking a curved metal bit against the stone with a sledgehammer. It took a full work day to drill a single hole.
Nitro-glycerine was invented in the 1840s. This substance had an explosive power far greater than that of earlier powders.
But nitro-glycerine was unstable—it could blow up simply from being handled! Swedish chemist Alfred Nobel solved the problem with his invention, dynamite, which was far safer.
By the 19th century, torches had been replaced by oil lamps, allowing for a more reliable source of light in the mine. Even so, light in the mines remained dim.
Ore barrel and pneumatics in the mine
This mine recreation includes an ore barrel, in which ore—and sometimes people—were transported out of the mine. Electricity was introduced in Swedish mines in the late 19th or early 20th century, and with electricity came many changes to the heavy work.
An ore barrel loaded with ore was heavy. In smaller mines, barrels were brought to the surface using a system of ropes and winders. These were pulled by horses or simply by people. In larger mines, it became more common to replace muscle power with water power.
Electricity allowed for the use of pneumatic drills, which made the work easier, faster and—together with dynamite—more effective. On the down side, the use of pneumatic drills was considered a male task, and this was one factor that brought an end to women working in the mines.
Mining lamps and heavy lifting with pneumatics
The mine exhibition includes a collection of lamps used in mines throughout the years. It also introduces visitors to the ways in which pneumatic devices were used to ease the burden of heavy lifting that was a constant part of the miner’s job.
The introduction of electric lights made mine work a lot safer simply because they provided more light. Now miners could see what they were doing. They could also see holes in the ground or cracks in the walls or ceilings that presented danger.
Pneumatic lifting device
Pneumatic devices were designed to replace human power with mechanical power. A miner shoveled ore into the ladle of this device, and pneumatics lifted the ladle up and over the cart, where it was emptied. This particular system was never actually used.
The mining cart in the 20th century symbolizes two things: it reflects the way in which electricity changed operations in larger mines; and it represents the only work women were allowed to do in smaller mines.
Telephone technology and ore dumps
With the introduction of electricity, it didn't take long before telephones came into use in the mines. Telephones made it possible for miners to communicate within a mine and with people above ground and represented another step towards a safer mining industry.
Along with the telephone, in this part of the exhibition, visitors can also see what looks like a cave-in that has been barricaded.
Telephone technology was another step towards safer mining operations. Before the telephone, miners could be trapped behind a cave-in, unable to communicate with people on the outside. Now a simple call could save lives.
This might look like a cave-in, but it’s something else entirely. Ore could not be transported out of every level of a mine, so it was dropped from some levels to a level below through a minor shaft like this.The drop shaft is barricaded to stop the ore from filling the passage.
‘Swedish method’ and an overhead loader
The ‘Swedish method’ of drilling used a combination of a drill with a ‘knee’ that allows a single miner to hold the heavy drill. The device includes a metal cutter, which added to the miner’s effectiveness.
In another innovation, in the 1930s, the technique of using pneumatics to lift ore into a cart was combined with a transportation system in the overhead loader.
Drill with ‘knee’
In the 1940s a new method was launched that allowed a single miner to operate a portable drill. Previously, drills were heavy and needed a team of two miners. This new drill had a ‘knee’, an easily adjusted support stand, that allowed the drill to be balanced on the ground while the miner drilled.
As technology advanced, the lights in the ceilings remained, but miners also got head torches (powered by batteries that they carried). This meant that their jobs got a little bit safer, and they could work a bit more effectively.
The pneumatic overhead loader ran on rails and was driven by a single miner. The loader picked up ore from the ground and lifted it over its ‘head’ into the attached cart—hence the name. Ore retrieval was now a streamlined operation.