The "Val d'Argent" is perhaps the most remarkable mining site in Europe. Thirteen years of archaeological research on about twenty excavation sites have made it possible for the scientific team called ASEPAM to make considerable progress in knowing more about the mining patrimony.. More...
To discover this astonishing universe, the voluntary ones of the asepam arranged a crossing on nearly one kilometer of galleries. These installations are the fruit of building sites of summer carried out since the Eighties, accomodating young people of all horizons. For 30 years, impassioned people of archaeology and mining speleology have explored 70 kilometers of galleries.
« The Valley of Sainte-Marie-aux-Mines can boast of specialized teams of value. Their competence and vitality , as well as their work towards the preservation of the vestiges of a prestigious past, makes it possible today to honour the proud men of yesteryear who worked under the earth. This was an era which made the renown of the Valley of Sainte-Marie-aux-Mines and even put it in the encyclopaedia.” »*
A Generous Nature

In the heart of the crystalline Vosges a lucky combination of geological events took place which contributed to endowing the valley of Sainte-Marie-aux-Mines with one of the riches! silver veins of our country. Silver filled the cracks in the earth: cooper, lead, zinc, cobalt, arsenic, antimony and many other metals followed. Their combinations appear in not fewer than 150 minerals.
The First Miners : Monks ?
Very early, men took advantage of these profusions. The "inventers" of the mines were the Echery monks, historians tell us. Archaeology confirm this: ancient vestiges from at least the first half of the tenth century have been found. Impressive chains of shafts could be seen along the vein. But little by little, throughout the centuries, working subsided. It is true that the recession of the Middle-Ages hardly favoured the economic situation.
The Rush towards Silver

Suddenly, at the dawn of the 16th century, the interest in silver re-awakened. Discoveries created a sensation: 3,000 miners flocked from Central Europe. They brought their knowhow, fruit of a veritable technical revolution; they created a new "Silver Valley", its underground, countryside, architecture and traditions. The Ribeaupierre noblemen, vassals of the House of Austria and the Dukes of Lorraine, on the left bank of the valley, shared the wealth. In one century, the 30 to 40 veins were emptied on considerable heights. Then the slow decline began: water flowed into the depths, the stocks grew thin, the silver rates dropped. In about 1635, war provoked the agony of an industry that did not want to die.
The Desperate Search

Thus the mines lay dormant three quarters of a century. The discovery of cobalt triggered a revival. The noise of tools resounded again below the earth; new techniques allowed the miners to go down even deeper. But fabulous discoveries were rare and production was no longer what is was. The French Revolution ended this last era of relative prosperity. The 19th and 2Oth centuries were only a series of failures which is explained by a la lack of knowledge of former work but also by the emptying of the veins.
Speleology and Archeo1ogie: Tomorrow's Mines

We are presently discovering the heritage of this prestigious past. Better, we are making it an asset of the future. For 25 years, speleologists-archaeologists have been able, little by little, to overcome the obstacles impeding their explorations and today more than 60 kilometres of corridors and shafts are known. They have elaborated a Plural-disciplinary approach of the mine patrimony with the help of history, archaeology and earth sciences.

Text : ASEPAM B. Ancel, P. Fluck
*Guy Naudo Member of the Academy of Alsace Regional Counsellor of Alsace Vice-President of the General Council of the Haut-Rhin. 1990