There is a common misconception that Europe is not a major player on the global mining stage. However, nothing could be further from the truth. Northern Europe is exceptionally rich in precious and base metals, including gold, silver and zinc. One area that has raised particular interest recently is the Freiberg mining district of Saxony, Germany, which has a history of silver mining that dates back over 800 years. Despite its lengthy history of high-grade yields, the region has seen no modern exploration, but Excellon Resources (TSX: EXN) is changing that with its Silver City Project.
Saxony’s silver rush
Silver was first discovered in Saxony’s Ore Mountains in the late 12th Century. Similar to the gold rush in North America, the silver rush in Saxony brought in an influx of activity in the region. As more high-grade silver deposits were discovered and extracted, the region became the main source of wealth and power for the rulers of Saxony.
What the people had discovered were large numbers of hydrothermal veins consisting of mainly silver and base metal deposits. The region is home to Variscan basement rocks that were uplifted by shifting during the Cenozoic period, creating underground corridors. When magma came into contact with groundwater, it dissolved elements in the rock and forced the hydrothermal fluid into these corridors, depositing high grade silver and base metals.
History of the Freiberg Mining District
Mining in the district started between 1162 and 1170, which led to the founding of Freiberg and many other towns nearby. In the beginning, mining was limited to a depth of about 15 metres. This depth increased as technology advanced. Over the centuries, new legislation and an influx of capital investment allowed mining activity and ore production to increase significantly in the region.
After the Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648) and the Seven Years’ War (1756-1762) destroyed large parts of mining infrastructure in Saxony, the Bergakademie Freiberg (Freiberg Mining Academy or TuBAF) was founded in 1765 to facilitate the recovery of silver mining in the region and to develop technological advances in the industry. Today the institution is still operating and is one of the oldest mining and metallurgy universities in the world.
Silver mining ceased in the Freiberg mining district as economic and geopolitical events impacted silver prices, rendering silver mining unprofitable. In the late 1870s, Germany replaced silver-based currencies with the gold standard, and increased silver imports caused demand to dwindle. Although there was a brief period of increased production leading up to and during World War II, the aftermath of the war took its toll and, by 1969, silver production had ceased.
For many reasons, Freiberg today is a highly prospective region. Throughout its 800 years of almost continuous mining, the district has yielded over 5,700 tonnes of silver. Historical data and new geologic research point to the fact that there are thousands of hydrothermal veins containing silver and base metals in the region. In addition, the German government actively supports mining investment, exploration development, and research into mining technology in Freiberg.
The Helmholtz Institute Freiberg for Resource Technology (HIF) is another major contributor to the mining industry. The institute’s mission is to develop innovative technologies for the exploration, processing, and recycling of mineral resources to maintain a sustainable circular economy. This includes analysing raw materials, quantifying how energy-efficient processes are, and coming up with new solutions to ensure the use of raw minerals is both commercially viable and socially responsible.
Excellon Resources entered into an option agreement in 2019 with Globex, another Canadian mineral company, for the Braunsdorf licence. Excellon branded the project Silver City after the nickname for Freiberg – Silber Stadt (Silver City). In 2021, Excellon increased the property size to 340 square kilometres through the addition of the Frauenstein, Mohorn, and Oederan licenses.
These districts and the surrounding areas have numerous historic mines and prospects that have produced significant volumes of high-grade silver. Drill testing for silver in this area for the first time in 800 years commenced in July 2020, with preliminary high-grade results on four of the seven targets tested. Drilling will continue in 2021, focusing on key areas outlined in the initial drill programme as well as on new targets.
When you take into consideration Freiberg’s geology, rich history and culture of mining, and support for exploration and development, it’s easy to see why Excellon Resources is perfectly positioned in the jurisdiction. By using historical analysis, mapping, geochemistry, and geophysical surveys, and working in partnership with TuBAF and HIF, the company has identified high-priority exploration targets at the Silver City Project that have the potential for high-grade silver discoveries.
*This article is sponsored by Excellon Resources. Its content does not necessarily reflect the views of The Assay’s editorial team or those of 121 Group.