The Lavrion Mining District has been dated to the Early Bronze Age at about 3200-2800BC and is considered to be the earliest recorded site for the extraction of ore in Europe. From the recorded history of the mines (thanks to the Athenians) after a perceived lull there was an upsurge of mining activity in about 500BC.
At this time Silver output was so vast that the Athenians are thought to have constructed statues from pure Silver. The production of Silver at this time led to the ability to finance a large fleet of triremes to protect both the mines and the city state from invaders. In the early 4th century BC Athens was engaged in a war with Sparta, pushing the mines of Lavrion into a decline for over 850 years, until the early Byzantine Period. In this early period the mines began again to be actively worked for Silver, although it appears for only a short time. It is likely the mines then remained unworked for over 1300 years.
In 1821 the Greeks began a war of independence against the Turkish Ottoman Empire who had ruled Greece for the previous 400 years, which lasted for 9 years with independence gained in 1830. It was not until 1859 that renewed interest was shown in the mines, when Andreas Cordellas was sent to ascertain the likelihood of reopening them. The report given to the Greek government was evidently a glowing one regarding the reworking of the ancient smelt slag.
The Greek Metal Works Company of Lavrion was set up in 1873 with the purpose to recover the metals still held in the poorly smelted slags. The Greek company continued to process the old smelt slag until 1917. At about the same time (1875) that this company began work on the recovery of metals in the ancient slags, a French company called Compagnie Francaise des Mines du Laurium took an interest in the remaining orebodies in the area. The mines came into the ownership of Giovanni Battista Serpieri (1832-1897), after whom the mineral Serpierite is named. Not only did the French company extend development on known ore bodies, but they also discovered new reserves. Mining in the area continued until 1982 when all work was stopped and the mine closed for the last time. The result of thousands of years of mining activity is a labyrinth of underground passages believed to be nearly 2000km in extent.