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Subject: ‘Minerals’

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Exploitation of the Belgian Congo ended with an independent Zaire

Posted in Africa, Animals, Geography, Historical articles, History, Minerals, Missionaries, Rivers, Trade on Thursday, 22 March 2012

This edited article about Zaire originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 673 published on 7 December 1974.

H M Stanley in Africa, picture, image, illustration

Henry Morton Stanley explored the Congo and with King Leopold II of the Belgians  he largely invented the country known as the Belgian Congo. Picture by C L Doughty

During the last two decades, many regions of Africa have gained their independence, and Britain, who had a large part of her empire in this continent, gave back the power of self-government peacefully to many states.

The Congo, now called The Republic of Zaire, has had a turbulent and violent history. Henry Morton Stanley was the first man to explore the main Congo River, and after his great journey, the Congo Free State was founded in 1879 by King Leopold II of Belgium. King Leopold II and Stanley literally created the Belgian Congo. These two men were both similar in character, ambitious, with great tenacity and boundless energy.

Leopold became one of the richest men in the world through the exploitation of the country’s wealth, particularly its vast resources of rubber and ivory which were then the main exports. He ruled with a rod of iron and during his reign, it has been estimated that between five and eight million Congolese lost their lives or were killed, either in the plantations or hunting elephant. If an African did not satisfy his boss, often his foot or arm sometimes both, were cut off.

The Congo was plunged into anarchy when the army mutinied just after receiving its independence from Belgium in 1960. Before the mutiny, the then Belgian Congo was turned into a blood bath when the Congolese butchered many of their Belgian ‘white masters’. For several years the native population had been plotting and planning to overthrow the foreign domination of their country. Right through this mainly dense forest area of Africa, which covers 905,000 square miles, the various tribes sent messages to each other by their bush telegraph, (the talking drum). Each village had their tribesmen signallers who passed information backwards and forwards through this hostile land.

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Colonial conflict and mineral wealth shaped the future of South Africa

Posted in Africa, Famous battles, Historical articles, History, Minerals, Politics, Trade, War on Thursday, 22 March 2012

This edited article about South Africa originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 672 published on 30 November 1974.

Diamonds, picture, image, illustration

Diamond mining near Pretoria in South Africa

Africa is a continent of contrasts; not only its people but its regions also are startlingly different. This is illustrated by the harsh deserts of North Africa and the breathtaking beauty of South Africa with its soaring mountains, vineyards, and rugged cliffs sloping down to secluded beaches which make it as near perfect a Garden of Eden as could be found anywhere in the world.

From the temperate Transvaal Highveld to the sub-tropical lands of Natal, this is a country that can rightly claim to have one of the most magnificent climates on Earth, with months of uninterrupted sunshine. Since South Africa lies south of the equator it celebrates Christmas during the height of its summer; winter comes between June and July.

The Republic of South Africa juts southwards between two oceans, the turbulent Atlantic in the west and the calmer, warmer Indian in the east. These two great oceans meet at the Cape of Good Hope, so named by the Portuguese who, five centuries ago, discovered this route to India.

Two hundred years later, Dutch traders decided to cut the voyage in two by establishing a supply depot at the cape.

In 1652, three ships of the Dutch East India Company dropped anchor in the beautiful bay at the foot of Table Mountain. Their commander, Jan van Riebeek, founded a colony, and they were the first citizens of what has now become the Republic of South Africa. Within ten years, a large white settlement had been established. In those days the countryside was all bush land; wild game roamed where the modern skyscraper-lined streets of Cape Town are today.

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Spilled salt has traditionally signalled impending misfortune and betrayal

Posted in Historical articles, History, Medicine, Minerals, Sea, Superstition, Trade on Friday, 24 February 2012

This edited article about superstition originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 650 published on 29 June 1974.

Arms of the Salters Company, picture, image, illustration

The coat of arms of the Worshipful Company of Salters, one of London’s great twelve livery companies, which was first licensed by Richard II in 1394,  by Dan Escott

Although we may regard it as commonplace, salt has always been a precious commodity. It improves the flavour of food, it cleanses, it preserves and it possesses medicinal properties.

In certain places, in the past, its value has been increased by its scarcity. A Roman soldier stationed in Britain traditionally received part of his pay in salt – hence the word salary, for the Latin word for salt is sal. To be told he was “not worth his salt” meant he was not worth his wages.

From the earliest times, it has been a symbol of friendship. To eat someone’s salt after it was placed on the head of the sacrificial victim was a bad omen. This was the origin of our own superstition.

Nowadays we often forestall the risk of bad luck by throwing a pinch of salt over the left shoulder with the right hand. Nobody quite knows why. Originally this, too, was a propitiatory “sacrifice.” Incidentally, if the thrown pinch scatters in someone else’s direction, he takes over the bad luck.

A salt-cellar overturned between friends forecasts a quarrel. In Leonardo da Vinci’s famous painting “The Last Supper,” Christ’s betrayer, Judas Iscariot, is identified by the salt-cellar he has overturned.

Salt is still regarded as a valuable gift in some places. Scottish first-footers carry it with them on New Year’s Eve. Occasionally, too, it is still put into coffins. Satan is believed to hate it because of its connections with purity and immortality.

Another old Scottish custom of throwing salt on top of the mash when brewing “to keep the witches from it” sounds like a superstition, but like many others its origin was practical. By limiting the fermentation, salt had the effect of improving the quality of the liquor.

The quest to find the Valley of Diamonds

Posted in Africa, Geology, Historical articles, History, Legend, Minerals on Tuesday, 17 January 2012

This edited article about diamonds originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 603 published on 4 August 1973.

Sinbad, picture, image, illustration

Sinbad the Sailor finds the legendary  diamonds by Nadir Quinto

It was in the year 1271 that the great Venetian traveller, Marco Polo, found the Valley of Diamonds. Or so he claimed. The great stones glittered in the sunlight, tantalising, but hopelessly beyond reach, for the sides of the valley consisted of cliffs so steep that not even the most agile man could hope to scale them.

Suddenly a group of tough, Asian tribesmen appeared and began to hurl pieces of meat down to the ground below. Soon numbers of white eagles were swooping down and snatching up the meat in their talons. Amid shouts of excitement the tribesmen gave chase as the great birds circled up again. As soon as an eagle alighted on a tree the nearest man would do his best to make it drop its intended meal, whereupon the man would snatch it up and inspect it eagerly. After a moment the luckier ones were proudly exhibiting the diamonds that they had found stuck in the meat, and only then did the Venetian understand that he had been watching a highly ingenious method by which birds were used to secure diamonds that would otherwise have been beyond the reach of man.

That Marco Polo actually made his astonishing travels is an undeniable fact, for they are confirmed by the official Chinese records of the time. But whether all his traveller’s tales are true is another matter. Quite apart from the sheer improbability of the eagle story, the whole thing bears a marked resemblance to one of the adventures of Sinbad the Sailor. What is interesting is the manner in which the tale illustrates just how old is the quest for the ultimate in diamond finds. And how timeless are the searches for a remote, undiscovered spot where priceless gems lie scattered about like pebbles, waiting to be collected.

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The Boers make the Great Trek to their promised land

Posted in Historical articles, History, Minerals, War on Tuesday, 20 September 2011

This edited article about South Africa originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 820 published on 1 October 1977.

Great Trek, picture, image, illustration

Andries Potgieter leads his Voortrekkers on the Great Trek, by Angus McBride

Here and there among the few scattered houses in the village a window glowed, and at wide intervals in the blackness of the night, far out on the veldt, pin-points of light flickered out, showing that distant neighbours were in their beds. Although it was only 9 p.m., the villagers were all Boers – the Dutch word for farmers – and that meant that they would be in their fields at sunrise, scratching a precarious living from the wilderness, a month’s journey by ox-wagon from Cape Town.

This night, though, there was to be no sunrise for these hardy Boers. For as the last lights petered out a horde of black warriors rose silently from the veldt and swept down like a tidal wave upon the village.

That night the villagers were murdered, their cattle driven off, and their homes enveloped in flames. And right across the veldt in village after village, the land was turned into a desert of blood and ashes.

It was two days before Christmas, 1834, in Cape Colony, and this was to be not a season of goodwill, but of bitterness and resentment. For the Boers who survived the vicious attack by the army of 12,000 Kaffirs, or natives, blamed the lax methods of their new rulers, the British Government, for the savagery of the black men, who were being allowed to destroy everything that the Boer settlers had built up.

“The British are tyrants,” declared the Boers, who longed for a return to the days when their own Dutch kinfolk ruled Cape Colony. “We do all the work and they offer us neither protection nor help.”

It was true that when news of this latest outrage reached Cape Town, the British governor sent Colonel Harry Smith at the head of an army to deal with the Kaffirs. The insurgents were made to submit and new rules were made to protect the Boers. But all that was speedily undone when the British Government in London ordered that the Kaffirs’ confiscated land should be restored to them. Once again, as the Kaffirs sharpened their assegais for more bloodshed, the angry Boers felt themselves betrayed.

Very well, they decided, if they could not be allowed to live in peace, they would leave the colony. Far beyond the Orange River was a fertile land of safety, free from Kaffir plundering. This was the Promised Land.

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The exploited tribesmen of despoiled Pumpkin Island

Posted in Historical articles, Industry, Law, Minerals, Politics on Monday, 19 September 2011

This edited article about British colonial history originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 818 published on 17 September 1977.

Japanese army, picture, image, illustration

The islanders were dispersed throughout the South Pacific and forced to work for the victorious Japanese invaders, by Wilf Hardy

The search for a fortune ended for Albert Ellis, a young Australian chemist, on 3rd May, 1900, on a coral atoll halfway between Sydney and Honolulu. He dropped anchor off the atoll and went ashore carrying a vital clue to untold wealth – a lump of white rock once used as a doorstop. It matched exactly the precious chemical that covered the island – phosphate created from huge deposits of calcified bird droppings of inestimable value in the manufacture of fertilisers.

It took Ellis just a matter of days to arrange one of the most extraordinary deals in the history of trading. The Banabans, who lived on Ocean Island, a paradise of just two square miles, agreed to give him the full rights for 99 years to mine the phosphates for an annual royalty of a mere £50.

That was the beginning of a tangled, tragic tale for the 2,000 or so tribesmen, who today believe that only now have they won a modicum of justice for the exploitation of their home.

After one of the longest legal disputes in the annals of English law, in which a High Court judge actually went to see the atoll for himself, they have offered to accept £6,500,000 compensation from the British Government provided they are given immediate independence.

The unhappy story began the moment Ellis strode ashore on Ocean Island where their fathers lived at the turn of the century. They followed a simple but happy life. Their pinpoint of an island was graced by curved beaches fringed by towering palm trees. It was the home of tropical birds of fantastic colours and it was blessed with a soil so rich that pumpkins grew large enough to eat within a month of being planted.

In the years that followed Ellis’s fateful arrival, western miners transformed Ocean Island into a desolate moonscape. The demands of 20th century science and technology had exacted a high price.

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The mineral riches on the ocean floor

Posted in Exploration, Geology, Minerals, Nature, Sea on Thursday, 1 September 2011

This edited article about deep sea mining originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 800 published on 14 May 1977.

Underwater, picture, image, illustration

An underwater world of mineral wealth

One day last February, a freighter left the Oregon harbour of Portland and nosed quietly into the deep ravine of the Columbia River on the first lap of the greatest treasure hunt of all time.

The German officers, Spanish crewmen and American mining experts aboard the 545-ton Deep Sea Miner II were not dreaming of golden doubloons and jewels cascading from some ancient chest lodged in the sunken wreckage of a long-forgotten galleon. They were on the trail of the natural trove of the deep – King Neptune’s very own treasure that is worth untold millions to the men who can pluck it off the sea-bed beneath the oceans of the world.

There, miles beneath the waves in the wandering abysses of the sea-bed lie strange, briquette-like lumps known as nodules, impregnated with precious ores sought by every nation in the world. Set in these nodules, which range in size from potatoes to footballs, is manganese – the mineral that toughens steel – and copper, nickel, cobalt and 30 other metals.

The South Pacific alone is estimated to contain as much as 1.5 million tons of nodules, and so at roughly £150 a ton, the potential economic boom from developing this single region enters the realm of the unimaginable.

United States defence experts have even come up with some equally staggering figures that confirm the existence of a veritable Eldorado of the Deep. They reckon that the Pacific can provide enough copper for 1,100 years, enough nickel for 23,500 years, enough manganese for 34,800 years and enough cobalt for 260,000 years.

And, strangely enough, every year more and more nodules are being thrown up by mysterious convulsions and volcanic eruptions in the inky depths. Some 55,000 tons of copper are added annually to the Pacific Ocean floor.

Yet how can these nodules be gathered from such vast depths? Officials of Deepsea Ventures Incorporated, the combine behind the voyage of the Deep Sea Miner II, believe they have the answer.

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Man’s timeless desire for gold

Posted in Geology, Historical articles, Minerals on Friday, 8 July 2011

This edited article about gold originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 984 published on 17 January 1981.

gold prospectors, picture, image, illustration

Panning for gold

Nobody who made the climb up the terrible Chilkoot Pass in the winter of 1898 ever forgot it. Of all the natural hazards of the trail to Dawson City, this appalling frozen staircase of snow and mud was unquestionably the worst. The foot of the pass was heaped with the bodies of mules, pack ponies and sledge dogs that had died in the attempt to reach the top. For weeks on end the snow-covered trail was black with an endless column of men who were making the climb on their own two feet, laden down with their supplies.

If a man stopped to catch his breath, the sweat froze to his skin beneath his clothes. If he tried to free the clothes, the skin of his body tore off in strips. With face grotesquely swollen by the biting wind, many a half-blinded man stumbled into a crevasse and was never seen again; and yet the remainder never faltered. They were miners and prospectors, driven on through those nightmare conditions by the lure of something for which men had risked their lives since the dawn of history – gold!

Why is it that man has always set so much store by a metal which, until recently, has been of little practical value? What strange property does it possess that sets it apart from all other metals? The main attraction of gold for people of the ancient world was simply that it was beautiful. Easily worked by craftsmen, proof against corrosion and rare enough to be valuable, it was an ideal material with which to decorate the homes and persons of the well-to-do. Moreover in ancient times it seemed by its very nature to have a certain mystical quality.

To primitive people it was no coincidence that gold was the colour of the sun, of flame and ripe corn. Clearly it was no ordinary metal, but a direct gift from the gods.

Even as long ago as 3000 BC, in the days of the early Egyptians, there was a surprising amount of gold about. At that time it was almost all alluvial; not mined, but literally picked up from rivers that had washed down dust and nuggets from distant deposits, often deep underground. The first gold came from Turkey, India, Persia and China. Later, during the Middle Ages, a good deal was found in Germany, Austria and Spain, to be followed by a staggering bonanza in Central and South America, when Spanish adventurers discovered that the Incas and other tribes had so much gold that they considered it to be of no particular value.

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An Australian strikes gold

Posted in Geology, Historical articles, History, Minerals on Thursday, 9 June 2011

This edited article about Australian goldrushes originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 962 published on 16 August 1980.

Larcombe, picture, image, illustration

Harold Larcombe and his son, Jim, strike gold, by Roger Payne

“Slug-o!” This cry was heard above the ring of picks and the rattle of mining machinery. It announced the finding of the world’s largest gold nugget, a treasure not buried by man, but one hidden away by nature for possibly millions of years.

In Western Australia, during the palmy gold rush days of the 1890s, men of many nationalities endured unbelievable hardships in their quest for that elusive metal. Gold was in everybody’s thoughts. Greed, and the hopes of a find which would give them a life of ease, were the goals which drew men on in the face of all difficulties.

The traditions of the early prospectors were handed down. Each generation produced a core of hardened and sun-burnt men, who worked with pick, shovel and dish in the vanguard of geochemists and diamond drills. Most found nothing, some, a little, and the very few found a fortune.

Gold-rushes were not entirely a thing of the last century. During the early 1930s, a prospector named Larkin found an alluvial patch which caused considerable excitement and a resulting rush of miners reminiscent of the heydays of the past. True to tradition, Larkinville, a town of tin shacks, sprang up over-night on the East Coolgardie field.

The hard iron-stone rock of the district, and very poor returns, proved too much for many of the diggers. Most men didn’t even find enough gold to make ends meet.

One such prospector named Larcombe was on the point of giving up, having found next to nothing on his claim. He was almost on his last pick stroke when his son Jim, a youth of 17, turned up. The lad was out of work at the time so Larcombe set him to work digging the last foot or two before finally giving up. Jim tackled the job cheerfully.

The next day, January 15th, 1939, as the lad hacked away at the rock, he let out such a yell that his father rushed over thinking the boy had hurt himself. When he reached his son, he stood and gasped. The youth had laid bare, just below the surface, a lump of pure gold.

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Salt of the Earth

Posted in Geography, Geology, Minerals on Monday, 7 March 2011

This edited article about salt originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 913 published on 21 July 1979. 

Some people like a lot of salt with their food, some prefer less. Yet the fact is that without some salt neither we nor other living things could survive.

The biggest salt mines in the world

The biggest salt mines in the world

There is plenty of salt for all on earth; but in some regions, and in some periods, it has not been easily accessible. In both Africa and Asia it has been valued highly enough to be used instead of money as a medium of exchange.

Our word “salary” comes from the Latin salarium – a salt allowance issued to Roman soldiers, and later replaced by a cash allowance. To describe someone as “the salt of the Earth” is high praise.

The word “salt” is applied scientifically to a number of chemical compounds. Common salt, or sodium chloride, is just one of these. The mineralogical name for common salt is “halite”. Vast quantities are present in solution in the oceans. It is also found in bedded deposits, and in this form halite is called “rock salt”.

The way in which such deposits are formed is linked to the reason why the sea consists of salt water, or brine. Mineral salts, dissolved from the weathered remains of igneous rocks which originally contained them, are carried away by rivers to the sea or into lakes. As the water evaporates, the salts are left behind.

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