Origin and development of marble quarries in M. Waelkens’ “Enciclopedia dell’ Arte Antica”
Origin and development of ancient quarries
[…] Already in prehistoric times a wide use of easily quarried stone materials is attested.
The first marble idols, made from pebbles or bachelors, were widespread in the Aegean world (Peloponnese, Attica, Cyclades) as early as the Middle and Late Neolithic.
While, generally, the material for the manufacture of these objects was collected at the surface, on beaches or in mountainous environments, where it was deposited as a result of natural erosion phenomena, a recent discovery has shown that, in the Nile Valley, there were mines exploited for the lithic flint industry as early as the Middle Paleolithic. Initially (c.a. 50,000 years ago), the technique employed was very simple, and collection took place in trenches and pits dug in the open with tools made of organic materials (wood, bone).
As early as the Upper Paleolithic (c.a 30,000 years ago) vertical pits were drilled, from which small underground tunnels branched off; horn and stone tools were used for this purpose (Vermeersch, Paulissen, 1989).
…One of the most important events in the history of ancient c. was the conquest of Egypt by Augustus.
This territory, acquired as a province of the empire, opened up new supply possibilities, as all Egyptian c., hitherto owned by the Ptolemies, became part of the Patrimonium Caesaris. Also the profound transformation in the extraction and export of Docimian marble reported by Strabo (XII, 8, 4), together with the fact that this marble, in the same passage, is already called “sinnadic” (from Sinnada, an imperial administrative center for the marbles of Phrygia), probably indicates that these c. had become imperial property with Augustus (Fant, 1989). Shortly before his principate the royal c. of Numidia at Simitthu, which produced “ancient yellow,” would have become the property of the Roman republic…
…Vast building programs, such as those of Domitian and later Trajan, led to a considerable increase in the production of imperial c., which had already been exploited for public works from the beginning; this increase made it necessary to set up deposits for the accumulation of materials, such as those at Porto (Ostia), Marmorata and the Campus Martius in Rome. Inscriptions of c. in Asia Minor (Phrygia, Theos) indicate serial mining, well controlled from the reign of Domitian onward. In contrast, c. from the Egyptian desert show an increase in production especially in the Hadrianic and Trajanic ages. In the same period, Luni marble began to lose market in Rome and Italy; in fact, by the end of the 1st cent. AD, marble from Attica and Proconneso had begun to take its place in public buildings.
In the 3rd century AD, marble from Thasos and Proconnesus also replaced marble from Carrara in Rome in the production of sarcophagi. In the 2nd cent. CE, as a consequence of the reorganization of the production system carried out in the previous century, an increasing quantity of marbles-sourced from both imperial and private c.-could be purchased in provincial cities that did not have their own supply possibilities. It seems, however, that some among the imperial c. directed their exports almost exclusively to Rome and Italy (this is the case with African and “ancient yellow”). Nonetheless, from the second century CE onward, statuary marble, which had been very rare up to this time, seems to have been extracted in quantities suitable for the production of large statues, carved from a single block, in many cases with a more spatially extended arrangement of the figure that involved a higher expenditure of material.[…]