Could have, should have, would have. If British mining on Spitsbergen had not been how it was.

Frigga Kruse, Arctic Centre Groningen

A large area of gold-bearing quartz. Coal-belts extending for miles on a splendid harbour. Any amount of ironstone. Remarkable marble in value only second to that of rich goldfields. Unlimited mineral wealth. These were only some of the phrases used by British prospectors and adventurers to promote the economic potential of Spitsbergen, unpopulated and ungoverned, at the turn of the twentieth century. It could have been true. In which case the archipelago would look very different today. Archaeological research, however, revealed how it was. The four companies involved should have been less optimistic , should have been financially conservative and methodologically sound. They would perhaps have made some revenue. As it was, their descend into bankruptcy led to the abandonment of their claims, never to be worked again. The companies’ loss was Spitsbergen’s gain as the islands never suffered from the environmental degradation that might otherwise have followed. Their spectacular failure is no exception in the long history of mining manias around the world. The question is if we have finally learned our lessons for the (Arctic) future.

Willem Barentsz Poolinstituut

Bundeling van kennis, onderzoek en onderwijs over de Noord- en de Zuidpool

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