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What all the Metal From a Single Mine Would Look Like as a Giant Orb

By Kelsey Campbell-Dollaghan on at

Of all the ways humans have altered the Earth, mining must be one of the most awe-inspiring — just for the sheer ratio of Earth excavated to metals and gems recovered. Still, it's hard to visualise just how much a single mine has netted in numbers, which is why For What It's Worth is so interesting.

This is the project of Dillon Marsh, whom you may remember from this project. Marsh is a photographer and artist from Cape Town who describes For What It's Worth as an attempt to quantify mining, "an industry that has shaped the history and economy of the country so radically". To start the project, he took photos of five famous mines — the first in South Africa — and then, using data about extraction rates, calculated a single, solid mass to represent the amount of metal that had been mined in total.

Then, using basic rendering and some quick adjustments for scale, Marsh inserted each orb into the landscape of these now-shuttered mines. "Mines speak of a combination of sacrifice and gain", he says. "Their features are crude, unsightly scars on the landscape—unlikely feats of hard labour and specialised engineering, constructed to extract value from the earth but also exacting a price". The following images deal with copper, but Marsh has plans to do the same for precious metal, stones, and even coal.


Tweefontein Mine

What All the Metal From a Single Mine Would Look Like As a Giant Orb

This mine in Concordia saw work from only 1887 to 1904, but 38,747.7 tonnes of copper were still extracted.


Nababeep South Mine

What All the Metal From a Single Mine Would Look Like As a Giant Orb

This copper mine operated from 1882 to 2000, an incredibly old and deep mine. Workers ultimately extracted 302,791.65 tonnes.


West O'okiep Mine

What All the Metal From a Single Mine Would Look Like As a Giant Orb

284,000 tonnes of copper were removed from this mine in Okiep, which operated from 1862 to the early 1970s. It's over 1,600 feet (487m) deep.


Blue Mine in Springbok

What All the Metal From a Single Mine Would Look Like As a Giant Orb

3,535 tons of copper were mine here, from 1852 to 1912.


Jubilee Mine

What All the Metal From a Single Mine Would Look Like As a Giant Orb

A Concordia mine that only operated for two years between 1971 and 1973, this is the smallest haul of the series, with only 6,500 tonnes of copper represented.


See more of Marsh's work here.