Everybody thinks mine is theirs
September 18th, 2012
With the proliferation of strikes, unrest and violence at South African mines dominating the local news, we went digging around to see what we could uncover about the origin and roots of the word 'mine' as in mining, and if there is a link to the word 'mine' as in “it belongs to me”.
Finding exact answers proved as elusive as trying to find a very rare mineral but it was an interesting dig that delivered some fascinating nuggets of information about the history of mining through the ages.
Let's put one thing out there immediately:etymologically speaking, we could not find a direct link between the different meanings of the word 'mine'. But some sort of link is not entirely out of the question.
Here and there linguistic experts had to resort to some guesswork but the general consensus seems to be that the word 'mine', as in mining, derives from the ancient Celtic word mina. It arrived in modern English from Vulgar Latin via Old French and Middle English.
In the ancient languages, mina is mostly associated with weights and measures. The ancient Greek version of the word, maneh, indicated a weight equal to 50 shekels.
Over time the words mina and maneh became associated with the art of extracting minerals from the earth and converting them into objects, with specific rules applying to their weights and measures. In Latin, a person involved in this art became known as a minutor, in French as a mineur, in Spanish a minero and eventually in English as a miner.
The possesive 'mine', by all indications has a Celtic origin. Historical evidence such as legends, however, suggest that there is not a link to the roots of 'mining'. It is, rather, from the word mein, as we still find today in the German mein and Dutch mijn.
It is interesting that before 900 the 'I' (referring to oneself)in Middle English was ik and in Old English ic or ih. Why the the second letter was eventually dropped in English is not clear but the Old Norse version of the word ek survives in Afrikaans to this day, just as ich survives in German.
History of mining
Our dig around for the origins of the word 'mine' also led us to some discoveries about the history of mining as a human activity.
The Bible for instance, reveals that mining dates back to the start of civilisation. Earliest examples are stones and ceramics collected for the manufacture of tools and weapons.
Extracting metals from stones would follow and seams of flint found in stones would lead people underground to recover it during the period 4 000 to 3 000 BC.
But archaeological records place the oldest known mines in our Southern African neighbourhood. Mines, dating back 43 000 years were discovered at Lion Cave in Swaziland where hematite was mined to make the red pigment ochre (LINK: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ochre).
Now whose is it?
Exploring the earth's surface and below the surface has since the earliest times been intimately interwoven with the economic activities of man.
Although the verb attributed to this activity, to mine, does not share its roots with the, possessive, meaning of the word 'mine', it could easily have been the case: Judging by the often heated debate about to whom the treasures that are mined actually belong, it would seem that everybody thinks the mine is theirs.
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