THE island of Cyprus in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea is said to have given copper its Classical Latin name. The phrase ‘aes Cyprium’ roughly translated to ‘alloys from Cyprus’ and was later shortened to Cuprum.
According the Republic of Cyprus’ Mines Service, the small nation produced a total 852,717t of copper metal between 1931 and 2012.
“The ancient Cypriots were not only experienced miners but also skilful metallurgists,” the Mines Service stated.
“They discovered almost all copper ore bodies which have been exploited in modern years, and they were able to recover the rich part of the ore bodies by underground exploitation methods and produce high grade metal copper (copper talents) by metallurgical methods, of which their base is still used today.”
In the fourth millennium BC, the Cypriots harnessed native deposits of pure copper, found on the ground surface, to make tools.
During the Aegean Bronze Age, which began in Cyprus about 3200 BC, the island’s copper deposits became a main source of wealth. Ric copper-bearing ores were discovered and mined on the north slope of the Troodos Mountains, at sites such as Ambelikou-Aletri.
By this point, the first far-ranging trade networks had been established and Cyprus began to import tin; alloying it with copper to produce bronze and then using it to make tools, weapons and small personal items such as pins and razors, which were exported around the world.
According to The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Cypriot copper and bronze workings were fairly modest throughout the early and middle Bronze Ages, however excavations revealed increasing metallurgical activity at settlement sites in the Late Bronze Age.
“Nearly all of the major centres, including Enkomi, Kition, Hala Sultan Tekke, Palaeopaphos, and Maroni, provide evidence of copper smelting, as do smaller settlements including Alassa and Kalavasos-Ayios Dhimitrios,” the museum stated. “Metalwork of the first part of the Late
Bronze Age continued to follow earlier conservative traditions. Despite the widespread evidence for metallurgical activity, there are few examples of actual bronze work from Cyprus between ca (circa) 1450 BC until the late thirteenth century BC, the Late Cypriot II period, because the metal was valuable and metal objects were melted down in subsequent periods for re-use.”
Throughout the reign of the Roman Empire (from 27 BC to AD 476 in the west and AD 330 to AD 1453 in the east), Cyprus was the world’ smain supplier of copper. Following the empire’s fall, there was a hiatus in the nation’s copper mining activity until the 19th century, when pyrite and chalcopyrite were mined – mainly for sulfur production but also for copper.
In 1914, Charles G Gunther began prospecting in Skouriotissa, a small village in the Nicosia District, after reading about the country’s rich copper reserves in ancient books, and noticing promising ancient Roman slag heaps in the area. In 1916, Colonel Seeley
W Mudd and his son, Harvey Seeley Mudd, established the Cyprus Mines Corporation, effectively turning Skouriotissa into a mining hub.According to the Mines Service, underground and surface exploitation methods were used for ore recovery.
“The main underground methods which were used were the horizontal successive slices or levels followed by roof falling (top slicing, sub level caving) or fulfillment of the voids by stone filling or hydraulic filling using cement pulp containing tailings from the metallurgical treatment plants (cut and fill, crosscut).
“The main surface method was that of the closed benches, primarily because of the topography of the mining areas.” Cyprus Mines continued to operate in the area until 1974, when its mines and processing plant were split by the United Nations Buffer Zone (aka the Green Line) – a ceasefire demarcation line between Greek and Turkish forces. Although Cyprus Mines abandoned its operations, other companies continued copper production through the political dispute. All mine work was halted in 1979, when low copper prices rendered Cyprus’ low grade deposits uneconomical.
The Greek Mining Company reportedly took over the Skouriotissa mining lease between 1976 and 1995, producing copper concentrates and gold. Hellenic Copper Mines began operating the mine and plant in 1995 with the aim of reviving the island’s mining industry; using modern technology to produce high quality metallic copper.
The processing plant underwent a number of improvements following Hellenic Copper Mines’ operatorship, including the addition of a secondary crusher, increases in capacity, installation of water pipeline from the mine, automatic feed processing and improvements to the grinder. The modern plant has a capacity of 8000t of copper cathode per annum.
In 2010, about US$13.1 million worth of copper was exported from Skouriotissa. The majority of copper came from the processing of waste material from previous mining operations.
Throughout the mine’s history, when copper prices were low and processing was costly, only the richest copper deposits had been exploited.
However in the modern era, rising copper prices and new methods of processing and reprocessing waste material made the mine a more lucrative operation, with Hellenic Copper Mines reportedly looking to re-open some of the mine’s ancient pits. In April 2012, the mine reached a production milestone of 50,000t of copper.
More than 30 copper deposits have reportedly been identified in Cyprus to date, ranging between 50,000t and 20 million tonnes.