Copper shale mining in Germany

Learn more about the history of copper shale mining in Germany. Just choose one of the phases in the graphic below:

Copper Shale Mining in Germany

Copper shale mining in Germany dates back to the year 1199. According to legend, the miners Napian and Neuke found a new deposit on "Copper Mountain" near Hettstedt, east of the Harz Mountains and they started to mine it. 80 million years ago tertiary tectonic movements led to the formation of the Harz Mountains moving the copper shale layers to the surface, creating places bountiful in copper such as Hettstedt, Mansfeld and Eisleben where hundreds of small and large heaps of copper now dominate the entire landscape. At the turn of the 19th and 20th century the mining areas between the Harz Mountains and the Thuringian Forest, as well as parts of Lower Hesse were responsible for 80 percent of Germany's total copper production.

Use of explosives

After 1199, progress advanced slowly, and copper exploitation changed from open-pit mining to underground mining. The first shafts were only a few meters deep.

From the 17th century onwards, copper shale mining started using explosives and continued with this method until the 20s of the last century. Exploitation was performed with  great physical efforts.


In 1923, when compressed air was developed, machines started to be employed, and the difficult working conditions improved, as the height of the voids increased from only 40cm to 80cm.

In the middle of the 20th Century, advanced mechanization led to a fundamental change of Mansfeld copper mining: electric rock rotary drilling, blasting, and  intensive mechanization of mining was introduced. Furthermore, innovations in smelting technology allowed refining of low copper content ores. Since then, it has been possible to exploit up to one meter in ore thickness.

The end of copper mining

In spite of increasing mechanization, the nearly 800-year history of copper shale mining in Germany came to an abrupt end in 1990. The reason: ore deposits yielded less and less, and revenues of expensive copper exploitation decreased causing the end of copper mining in Gemany.

The Roehrig Bay in Wettelrode (Saxony-Anhalt) was closed in 1990. It was one of the last copper mines in Germany. Since 1991 it has been the only copper shale mine in Germany that can be visited - making it an important historical site for copper mining in Germany. At the closed mine, which was drained by a system of tunnels, tracks can still be found in which the copper shale has not been completely exploited.

Copper is re-discovered

In recent years, the copper shale gained renewed importance. At center stage: the KSL Spremberg-Graustein-Schleife copper deposit in the Lausitz.

Currently a re-evaluation of the Spremberg deposit potential is taking place by KSL - based on previous results and with an additional exploration program.