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Museum Quality Mineral Specimens, Daye Copper Mine

Updated: May 23, 2021

Ancient Chinese Dynasties: Unveiling the Mystery of Sources of Copper

When the Bianzhong of Marquis Yi of Zeng (Zenghouyi) unearthed in 1978 in the Zenghouyi Tomb in Sui Co., Hubei Province, China, the world was shocked. The discovery totally changed our understanding of prehistoric human, who were able to create such a beautiful set of musical instruments. The Bianzhong was built around 2,451 years ago (433 BC) and is the most extensive, heaviest (10.5 tons!) and best preserved orchestral instrument known-to-date. We’re all amazed and can’t help thinking – where did such a huge amount of raw copper materials come from? The answer is – The Tonglushan Mine (Daye Copper Mine).

The Bianzhong of Zenghouyi, Hubei Provincial Museum

Daye Copper Mine – The Oldest Mine In History Still In Operation

Tonglushan Mine (Daye Copper Mine), Hubei, China

The Daye County in Hubei Province has long been an important site of metal production due to its mineral richness in high grade copper and iron, but also in other minerals. Located in the eastern part of Hubei Province, the Daye Copper Mine on the south bank of the Yangtze River is known as the "Golden Land of Baili, Cornucopia in the South of the Yangtze River". Radiocarbon dates indicates that the area has been mined since the first recorded dynasty in China, the Xia Dynasty (2070-1600 BC) and has a history of more than 2,400 years. The Tonglushan ancient mine was rediscovered in 1965 and excavated between 1973-1985, during which 8 large mining sites, 50 smelting sections, 12 smelting furnaces, 231 vertical mining shafts, more than 100 horizontal inclinded tunnels and thousands of mining tools were revealed. It is estimated that the smelted blister copper reached 80,000 to 120,000 tons.

Tonglushan Ancient Mining Site

Tonglushan Mine, Fengjianshan Mine and Tieshan Mine

You may wonder which mine(s) should officially be called The Daye Copper Mine, be it the Tonglushan Mine, the Fengjishan Mine and the Tieshan Mine. The answer is, they are all called The Daye Copper Mine because they are mountains and underground ore deposits interlinked to form the whole Daye Copper Mine area, see the diagram below:

Mining Technology in Ancient China

There was a gradual evolution in the complexity of mining operations in ancient China of which shaft sinking was initially adopted to excavate a vertical tunnel from the top down during 1100-800 BC. Whereas later the extraction was also followed by underground tunnels (800-500 BC) and from 500 BC onwards, a sophisticated and complex process of extraction was developed whereby the ore was extracted in stair-crosscut galleries and tunnels.

Shaft Sinking

Ancient Shaft Relic, Tonglushan Mine (Daye Copper Mine)

Coal Mining in Ancient China

Complex and sophisticated underground mining in Tonglushan Ancient Mine

How is copper found?

Believe it or not, it’s by flowers! Elsholtzia and Commelina communis (commonly known as the Asiatic dayflower) are the dominant species that vastly grow over the copper mining spoil heaps and copper-contaminated soil of the areas along the Yangtze River. Chemical analytical data show that these plants can accumulate copper to various extents, depending on the copper content of the supporting soils and plant species. Therefore, these flowers can serve as pioneer species for reclamation of copper mined land and that was exactly how people discovered the Tonglushan Ancient Mine.


Museum Quality Specimens from Daye Copper Mine

Last but not least, here are some museum quality and collectible specimens excavated from the Daye Copper Mine, including some of my private collections, enjoy!

Pink Calcite on Calcite

Beijing Poly Auction 2018

Price sold: US$5,630

Dimension: 21cm x 14.5cm x 14cm

Locality: Fengjiashan Mine (Daye Copper Mine), Daye Co, Huangshi, Hubei, China

Pink Calcite with Goethite on Matrix

Heritage 1971

Dimension: 19cm x 13cm x 6.4cm

Locality: Fengjiashan Mine (Daye Copper Mine), Daye Co, Huangshi, Hubei, China

Amethyst and Calcite

Shanghai International Gems and Minerals Expo 2017

Price: Not for Sale

Dimension: 15cm tall

Locality: Fengjiashan Mine (Daye Copper Mine), Daye Co, Huangshi, Hubei, China

Amethyst and Calcite

Heritage 1971

Dimension: 13.3cm x 8.4cm x 7.5cm