In considering prehistoric mining, one must remember that without the development of metal tools, mining is limited almost entirely to what can be found, as opposed to what can be broken from existing rock. Early mining examples are few in number – mostly for placer deposits such as gold and silver, or for hard stones found in soft material (flint found in chalk, such as at Grimes Graves in England. Gems found at Mogok in Burma or in Ceylon, hematite at Zimbabwe, outcroppings of lapis found in Badakhshan, or diamonds found in kimberlitic deposits (in many places) are other examples.
While Egyptians did extract malachite and turquoise in the ancient world, in terms of time scales this is considerably late for any discussion about the development of early mining as a technology. Grand scale mining arose as the result of bronze and iron tools – while we are not yet considering those advancements.
If this were an anthropology essay, this overview would be virtually done – I might go into a few specific examples, discuss some archaeological digs. Instead, since this is about D&D, I must tackle a different course, discussing instead the rise of mining culture among those who would have sought to advance it some 20,000 years ago ... had they existed. I am speaking of the non-humanoid races.
Long prior to the development of technology, there must have been an adaptation to living beneath the earth’s surface. Forgive me if I advance a evolutionary theory based upon my world – I mean this only as a suggestion. Still, since my world is based on Earth, this allows any examples I might present to be more easily fit into an understandable framework – which the gentle reader might later adapt for their own world with little trouble.
Some 2 million years ago, as part of the diaspora of homo erectus from Africa into the wider old world, there must have been sub-species who developed alongside humans. Some of these developed characteristics which enabled them to subsist entirely upon creatures that existed below ground. Without discussing in depth the entire fossil history of every monster found in D&D, let’s simply accept that both flora and fauna had already developed – along with geological structures - creating vast underground regions capable of supporting humanoid life. For thousands of generations, proto-orcs, proto-dwarves and other related creatures each developed along independent, sometimes parallel evolutionary tracks.
Certain underground cultures would have developed along the same lines already discussed: subterranean fishing cultures, where pools or underground rivers provided a steady source of protein; agricultural societies, founded upon either evolved mushrooms or soil crops supported by non-solar light sources; hunting cultures founded upon extensive herds of underground creatures supplying meat; even cultures based upon non-food sources, somehow sustained by the power of the earth itself, in a manner suggested by the context of my last post.
Life below ground would have been harsher – population pressure might have forced some clans back onto the surface, but most deep clans would have been compelled, given finite space, towards cannibalism or other methods of systematically killing their own kind: ageism, culling, specism.
The technology of mining would have been a godsend. Any increase in cubic would have allowed greater area for farming in particular, where this was developed. Some creatures might have developed claws hard enough for digging in soft stone, and probably an ear for detecting hollow spaces in the rock. Mining, as it might have developed some 20,000 years ago, by means of harder rocks pounding against softer rocks, would have made tremendous impact on these cultures.
Usually the manner in which subterranean lairs are laid out presumes living arrangements which might have been established within the last year. Any long term settlement is rarely supposed, particularly a settlement that might extend back for generations – complete with processing chambers, livestock chambers, holy chambers and sub-chambers, places where members of the culture might seek solace or privacy, recreational areas (slides, swimming pools – complete with diving platforms), burial chambers and so on.
As further technologies are added, I will try from time to time to discuss how each of these things might affect a subterranean culture, as well as how they did affect those above ground.