I have a mountain in a story that basically needs to be taken down (inadvertently) by human action in a world with premodern (so mediëval/ early renaissance at best) tech levels. I have been thinking of a couple of scenarios (if all fails i can Always pull the ole magic card) to pull this off and came up with one i kind of like but i just want to know how plausible this is.

Could excessive (strip)mining of a mountain eventually cause it to have so many tunnels/holes in it's inner structure to cause a sizeable portion of its top (peak and upper slope) to collapse in on itself?

  • $\begingroup$ Strip mining is very different from underground mining. An example of strip mining quite literally removing mountains is the Bingham Copper Mine in Utah. On the other hand, Butte Montana has so many tunnels under it that there's a fear that an earthquake will sink a good sized chunk of the city. Then there's Hubbard's Battlefield Earth where the outcome revolves around a planet with this problem. However, I'm not convinced that the scenario you're talking about could exist. It's one lousy miner who doesn't know when he/she's created a dangerous situation. $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Apr 24, 2020 at 14:07
  • $\begingroup$ Does it have to collapse from within, or can it simply get washed away? 19th century Western gold miners obliterated many entire mountains with pressure hoses that used almost no advanced tech (mostly just water pressure from mountain streams/rivers). $\endgroup$
    – DWKraus
    Apr 24, 2020 at 20:37

1 Answer 1



Even though you have premodern technology, you can have an enormous number of people mining the mountain for a very long time, which could destabilize large areas of it. In the real world, you can find just such a mountain in the form of Bolivia's Cerro Rico. Its rich silver deposits have been mined for 500 years. And the mountain is in trouble.

The mountain holding one of the world's greatest silver deposits is at risk of collapse after five centuries of exploitation, Bolivian officials say, calling for moves to save the historic site. "It looks like an hour glass that is slowly sinking," said Celestino Condori, president of the civil committee of Potosi, an organization dedicated to enforcing sustainable procedures for the rampant mining that is hollowing out the mountain in a bid to reach its silver, lead, zinc and tin. Potosi, once South America's wealthiest city due to the silver mine within the conical mountain which looms above it, is now even more treacherous for miners than usual, because of regular landslides prompted by some 90 kilometers (55 miles) of tunnels within the hulking Cerro Rico, or "rich hill".

To answer your question, an entire mountain won't vanish into the earth or anything, but it can definitely lose "a sizeable portion of its top" due to mining activity.

  • 3
    $\begingroup$ I upvoted this. A real-life example beats meandering musing every time. Cheers! $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Apr 24, 2020 at 14:43

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