Bangka and Belitung are the centres of Indonesia’s tin mining industry and one part, East Belitung, is hoping to trigger a boom in tourism related to that tin mining. It sounds like an excellent idea to be honest, Poldark has definitely worked in getting people to go to Cornwall now, hasn’t it?
There is a greater interest though, perhaps we could educate the more idiot of the environmentalists while we’re about it?
Selinsing Village in East Belitung District of Bangka Belitung Islands Province has developed tin ore mining tours to improve local people’s welfare. “We hope that PT Timah Tbk could support development of this mining in miniature tour,” Chief of Selinsing Village Enterprises (Bumdes) Muhammad Rais said in Selinsing on Sunday. Bangka Belitung Islands is known as the world`s second largest tin producer. Tin ore mining in the area has operated for some three centuries, and development of the region is closely linked to mining sector. “Development of the mining in miniature could provide tourists with better information on tin ore mining,” he said, adding that currently the public received information on tin ore mining only from books and mass media.
Better information on tin mining is sorely needed. There are two distinct reasons for this.
The first is that we’ve the usual idiots squealing about how that tin mining on those islands disturbs the environment and so on. It’s even been called the death metal. The thing is though, this is the easiest tin deposit in the world to exploit. There’s less danger here than there is elsewhere. For erosion has already done much of the mining and sorting for us. We’ve not got to blow great holes in the rock to get the stuff out – as we used to have to in Cornwall – we can just scoop it up. Quite literally you can do this with a vacuum cleaner motor on a raft.
This is the best place on Earth to be getting tin from that is.
Then there’s the other point. We’re not about to run out of minerals. And it’s not even true that we have already exploited the easy deposits and thus we are left with only the more difficult and expensive. Bangka and Belitung are easier and cheaper to mine than Cornwall ever was. But we mined Cornwall first just because we didn’t know about these Indonesian deposits. Now we do and we’ve moved to these cheaper. As I explained in depth before:
“The Guardian tells us all about this new frontier being staked out. It’s tin mining in Indonesia now. Much of what they actually say they get right. There is indeed a belt of alluvial tin ore ranging from Burma down to Indonesia. In the poorer countries there it is indeed mined by very primitive methods. Miners are badly paid while they do so and yes, some of them die while they do it. The poor pay and primitive methods are because the places are poor: they’re actually the exact same statement.
Just as a little background, and without too much technical guff. The only ore of tin that we care about is cassiterite. Sometimes we find vast mountains of it as in Peru. Sometimes small mountains of it as in the Erzgebirge/Krusny Hory on the German Czech border (disclosure, I’m currently waiting, rather nervously, to find out whether my application for a mining license there is going to be granted. I’m not looking for tin but for the closely related, in an ore sense, tungsten but tin will be a by-product and it’s the main product of the mine right next door.). And sometimes we find that vast mountains of it have been worn down by erosion and that the cassiterite is now spread through the silt and sand of an ancient estuary. This is what the SE Asian tin sources are and why they are described as “alluvial” deposits. The cassiterite makes up some fraction of the standard sand and river silt there.
Back an ice age or more sea levels were much lower than they are now and that silt has been deposited right across the area, sometimes above current coastlines, sometimes below them, close inshore and well offshore too.
The extraction method is really quite simple. Dig up, suck up, that sand and silt then separate the heavier cassiterite from the lighter sand and silt. While they use a slightly different method it’s exactly the same principle as those cascades of wooden troughs you see in every Western movie about gold mines. The cassiterite sinks faster so the first stuff that sinks is the cassiterite.
Getting the tin out of the cassiterite is pretty easy: a hand built furnace and some charcoal can be used to do it although obviously modern machinery can make it more efficient. That ease of extraction is what made tin one of the very first metals that humans really learned to use. It is, quite literally, Bronze Age technology as bronze is copper and tin. Some of the earliest deposits exploited were those in Cornwall and Devon, in the SW of England. Some of the little mountain streams would have eroded and then collected deposits of that cassiterite: alluvial deposits again. The higher areas of both counties are littered with the remains of several thousand years of their exploitation. We’ve good evidence of Cornish tin ingots in the Eastern Mediterranean by about 1,200 BC, taken there by Phoenecian traders.”
So, yes, let’s have more tin tourism in East Belitung. And let’s try to send the more stupid of the environmentalists there. To learn two different lessons. This is the easiest, least dangerous, tin deposit in the world. And it’s also proof that we’re not about to run out of this resource. At which point maybe they’ll understand the basic truth about minerals, that we’re not about to run out of any of them – therefore we don’t have to recycle everything.