Medieval gold rush tools found in Slovakia

Iron tools used to mine gold in the Middle Ages have been discovered in the Malá Magura hills outside the village of Tužina in western Slovakia. This is the first direct archaeological evidence that gold mining took place in Tužina.

Gold was known to have been mined in other villages in the Upper Nitra area. The discovery of gold in the Malá Magura foothills in the 14th century sparked a gold rush. People moved to the area, staked land claims, panned the river, scoured the surface for gold veins and then tunneled down to pursue them. It ultimately proved a shallow find.

The gold rush occurred in the region because nobody knew how much gold there actually was, Hornonitrianske Museum expert Ján Vingárik told TASR.

“There was enough of it, given the findings of golden grains in streams flowing from the hills,” he argued. Germans settled in the area and expected a huge boom to continue for years to come but they were wrong, he added.

“It later turned out the available gold reserves were not as extensive as in volcanic areas.”

Archaeologists believed that Tužina was part of the Upper Nitra gold rush, but it was only recently verified, first by anomalies characteristic of underground mining identified on a digital relief model of the terrain. When the anomalies were inspected, archaeologists found two large mining areas near the source of a stream at the end of a valley. The first area features two tunnels dug one above the other on a slope. At the top of the slope is a ping field where dozens of exploratory pits of different size were dug to seek out veins. The second area is smaller with a single tunnel and only one ping.

Mining irons were discovered in both areas; mining wedges and the remains of an iron lamp were discovered at the second mining area. The finders were operating in the penumbra, using metal detectors without authorization which is a heritage crime in Slovakia. They reported their finds, thankfully.

It is difficult to accurately date the tools and they were pretty much uniform in design and materials for hundreds of years. The lamp is the only tool with a plausible end date: the metal ones stopped being used in the middle of the 16th century, replaced by clay lamps.

“The lamp is a rarity because it shows that miners entered the underground area in Tužiná,” archaeologist Dominika Andreánska from the museum told the TASR newswire, “It complements the overall picture of gold mining in Upper Nitra.”


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Comment by George Monsson
2022-02-16 14:07:05

I think there has been a bit of a glitch in translation from Slovak to English. I am not at all sure the artifacts are “wedges” in the sense of a triangular object driven into something to split it. This is because there are holes for a handle, something that is not common for wedges because it weakens them. I suggest that these are hammer/pick heads. It is possible that these are handled wedges similar to a blacksmith’s handled punches or other tools but this seems improbable in a mining/prospecting context.

It is also possible that the historians/archaeologists investigating or writing the press release are not familiar with mining tools and are not using exact terminology.

I have a bit of expertise in this area since I am a former geologist and am a blacksmith.

Comment by Bob Builder
2022-02-16 15:05:30

Indeed, this seems to be what in German is referred to as “Bergeisen”, which seems to have been correctly rendered as “mining irons” (“Berg” is mountain, but means this context mining, cf. “Bergwerk”).

The handle in this particular case is referred to as “helmet” (“Helm” for whatever reason in German, the vocabulary is rather special). There are pictures of how those “Bergeisen” were carried down there, and I machine translated some explanations.


“…The mining iron is a wedge- or chisel-like tool about 15 cm long and 2 cm wide. The tip is called “örtchen”, and the striking surface is called a “bahn”. The iron has an eye in the middle, into which the handle (“helmet”) is inserted. The helmet is not wedged tightly in the eye, but only inserted relatively loosely and protrudes. This makes it easy to separate it from the handle and not only penetrate deeper into a cleft, but also to slip on a new iron. This was necessary several times during a work shift, because the point iron quickly became blunt. Therefore, the miner always took several irons to work with him, which were re-sharpened in the miners’ forge after the shift. For transportation he used the iron belt, which in the past was actually a leather belt, but in later times, around the beginning of the 17th century, was formed as two flat irons with a carrying yoke. The name iron belt remained…”

Comment by George Monsson
2022-02-16 18:32:38

Hmmmm. Interesting. I wouldn’t have thought that a handle would be an advantage but I have never had to mine without explosives and compressed air drills.

You can see by the “grain” in the artifacts that they are made of wrought iron which means they would have dulled pretty quickly. I’m sure that each mine had at least a part time blacksmith to resharpen tools.

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