Silver paths between Orient and Occident

For the beginning of 2014, the Deutsches Bergbau-Museum Bochum is planning a temporary exhibition on the extraction, significance and value of silver in the Middle Ages, at the time of Charlemagne’s reign in the Frankish Empire, and the reign of the Abbassid Caliph Harun al-Rashid in Baghdad. In medieval Europe, silver was the precious metal that determined value. Gold was virtually no longer available, because the trade routes to the deposits known at the time, the routes associated with the gold trade, were running dry. In the early centuries of Islam, silver, the “white metal”, was the most important precious metal for coins and jewellery.

The time frame of the exhibition is the early Middle Ages in Europe and the Arab world. The relevant mining areas are Melle (Poitou, France) and ArRadRad (modern-day Jabali in the Hawlan mountains, Yemen).
The contemporaneous activities in these geologically comparable mining areas allow the comparison between different mining technologies, such as were able to develop on the basis of the local geographic conditions. The effects of this historical mining on the environment can also be elucidated. In the geopolitical context, Melle was the biggest silver-mining area of the Carolingian Empire. ArRadRad is, from today’s perspective, the largest known silver-mining area on the Arabian Peninsula.
The content of the exhibition is based on data gathered in scholarly studies in Melle since 1995 and in Yemen since 2003. 17 experts from France, Germany, England and Yemen are involved in the research, under the academic direction of the CNRS. The exhibition’s main thread follows the production of silver through to the final product, supported with available data about the two mining areas. It begins with geological information about silver, and finishes with a discussion of what the future may hold for the historical areas studied.


Jürgen Heckes

Project manager

Jürgen Heckes

Responsible body

Deutsches Bergbau-Museum Bochum



Deutsches Bergbau-Museum Bochum


GSMRB, Jemen

CNRS, Frankreich (Dr. Florian Téreygeol)


2009 - 2014