Ever since miners began excavating Europe’s „underground cathedrals” in the later twelfth century, they encountered many hazards both below and above the ground. This talk examines the cluster of dangers miners faced (or thought they faced) and the suite of preventative programs they devised to address them, on the basis of legal, scientific, administrative and pictorial sources. It also seeks to assess the latter’s limitations and impact, as they emerge from (bio)archaeological data from mining cemeteries and other archaeological remains. Tracing the preventative practices of these mostly rural communities sheds much new light on preindustrial healthscaping in Europe and its relations with the era’s prevalent medical paradigm of Galenism, which is increasingly better understood among townspeople. Furthermore, it tests new methodologies to recover and analyse miners’ sub/terranean spaces, including their unique materiality and mobility regimes. In particular, the spread of metalliferous seams, which elites could not control, and the era’s available technologies of excavation, created opportunities for miners to translate their underground agency into exterranean privileges, including those designed to preserve their health. Collectively these conditions often placed miners on the cutting edge of group prophylactics, ranging from protective gear and underground guidance systems, to expensive drainage and ventilation equipment, to balanced diets and zoning aboveground.
This lecture was delivered in Bochum University on 18 November 2021. You can watch the video recording of the lecture here.