Field of Science

What's in a name? - Mineralogy

It may seems strange, but Romans didn´t know minerals, despite crystals of quartz were well known and various famous mines of gold, silver and lead date back to these times, but so they didn´t know "mines". Roman naturalist used the term "metallum", derived from the Greek language, to describe both real metals as non-metallic minerals like salt, sulphur or gemstones. “Ad metallum damnare” was therefore the punishment to work in mines to extract rocks and metals. Only in medieval times the term “metalliarum” or “metallum”/“metullum” refers in specific to real metallic elements, like gold and iron, as mines where such ores are found.
The modern term and use of the word "mine" derives probably from the celtic word “meini”, may referring to both the ore as the mine, as still in medieval Latin the word “minera/minora” can be used to describe the metal as the galleries where it´s found. For sure the word “minae” referring to mining activities, can be found in documents dating back to 1143.
From medieval mines the word will later give to "the minerals" their name and finally to the "study of minerals" - mineralogy.

Fig.1. Lecture in mineralogy, from Bartholomäus Anglicus "Über die Eigenschaften der Dinge" (1390-1400) - "On the Properties of Things".


GRUBER, F. (2004): Einige Ausdrücke des Montanwesens in etymologischer - sprachgeschichtlicher Sicht. Res Montanarum. Nr. 34: 101-112

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