Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Machu Picchu or metallurgical memories?

This fantastic view reminds me of some ancient Inca city, perched on a mountainside, maybe hidden among the hills of the high Andes. But no, this is a more modern relic. A piece of industrial archeology. For this is a view of the old smelter site at the Chinkuashih Gold-Copper Mine, hidden among the green hills of Jueifang township in northern Taiwan.

Gol...d was first discovered here in 1889, and a gold rush ensued. But in 1895 Taiwan was annexed to Japan under a Sino-Japanese treaty. Previous panning activities became scaled up into industrialised gold extraction and smelting. Gold and copper were both produced, and by the second world war this site had become one of the largest smelter operations at East Asia, with British and Commonwealth prisoners of war set to work in harsh conditions. A large proportion remain at rest here, together with the empty buildings and industrial graveyard of a previous era.

Today it is the site of the "Chinkuashih Gold Ecological Park". After the closure of the mine, following a sulfuric acid leak from the copper smelter in 1987, it was abandoned, torn down and left in disrepair. It remains as a relic of the mining history of Taiwan, and now contains exhibits and an interpretive tour of the workings. These include the display of a 220 kg gold ingot in the gold pavilion, for some time the largest such ingot in the world.

Behind the ruin we can see a peak. This is a Pleistocene volcanic dacite (Mt.Keelung, unmineralised) standing tall. There are at least seven old dacite volcanoes in the Chinkuashih region. Many of them are mineralised and have been exploited for their ores.

Image: A view of the smelter works at Chinkuashih. Source: © James Ko Chun Huang, Dept. of Earth Sciences, NCKU, Tainan, Taiwan.


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