This is as much a question as it is a thought that I've had. You see, folding mountains (as in made by tectonic plates movement) are very poor in heavy minerals like metals, and they seem to be the ones we most often see dwarves.

It is probably because of the Hephaestus myth and the "volcano as a forge" kind of thought that this aesthetic set off, but I seem to remember many stories where it was not a volcano but a regular mountain.

To me it would seem fun to explore other possibilities, like a mine in the middle of the desert and all that that would mean in terms of food/water supply and caravans routes. Some good stuff that you don't see a lot in the usual medieval European fantasy. Open-pit mining is also a thing.

So, just a few thoughts about Dwarves and Mines. Please correct any mistakes.

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    $\begingroup$ Hi, and welcome to WorldBuilding.SE. It seems you've already answered your question about why dwarves are traditionally depicted as living in mountains. You've proposed some more accurate mining scenarios that could be interesting (and have been explored in many a game of Dwarf Fortress). Sooo... what are you asking? What's the world you're building and what would you like answered about it? $\endgroup$ – Schwern Jun 28 '17 at 1:00
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    $\begingroup$ Mines are most usually to be found in the mountains, or at least in mountainous areas, at least in western Europe. For example, see the Ore Mountains with the famous mining center at Joachimstal where Georgius Agricola wrote De re metallica mid-16th century. And western European dwarfs are traditionally miners. Other cultures may have they own dwarfs, but it is the western European dwarfs who made it to the silvery screen. $\endgroup$ – AlexP Jun 28 '17 at 1:08
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    $\begingroup$ @Vincent: No, because Tolkien apparently knew where the ore was :-) $\endgroup$ – jamesqf Jun 28 '17 at 3:54
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    $\begingroup$ @AlexP why isn't it an answer? $\endgroup$ – Mołot Jun 28 '17 at 5:08
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    $\begingroup$ Gave you plus one for what is effectively a self-answering question. Please note you can propose a question and then answer it yourself if you have ideas and information on the subject you would like to communicate to other members of the community. Welcome to our Worlds and the Building thereof of them. Have fun! $\endgroup$ – a4android Jun 28 '17 at 6:34

Hephaistos (or, as the Romans would have written his name, Hephaestus) of the Greeks and Vulcan of the Romans were metal-working gods. Hephaestus was said to be rather ugly, and a cripple; but they were not dwarfs by any measure. (Hephaestus managed to arrange it so that, ugly and crippled as he was, he ended up married to Aphrodite, lucky god as he was.)

Hephaestus giving the arms of Achilles to Thetis by Anthony van Dyck

Hephaestus giving the arms of Achilles to Thetis by Anthony van Dyck (17th century) on Wikipedia.

The dwarfs of fantasy novels are modeled after the dwarfs of western European folklore, mostly of Germanic origin, and those dwarfs are miners and hoarders of treasure; for example, the dwarf Alberich from whom Siegfried stole the Nibelung treasure. (In Wagner's opera cycle, the Nibelungs themselves are dwarfs.)

Now they being miners they naturally lived in the mountains, because in western and central Europe most mines are in mountainous areas. See, folding mountains are usually less rich in minerals than volcanic mountains, but usually does not mean always and anyway volcanic mountains are usually dotted here and there in the folded ranges; and the mountains are almost always richer in minerals than the plains.

For example, in central Europe there are the Ore Mountains, which have the richest silver deposits in Europe, and which have been mined since the middle of the 3rd millennium before the common era; there, in Joachimsthal, beginning in the 16th century, were minted the well-known silver coins named joachimsthalers, a name first shortened to thaler and later mangled into dollar; there, in the 16th century, Georgius Agricola wrote his famous book De re metallica, the first serious book about mining and minerals written after the fall of the classical civilization. A very good place for a tribe of dwarfs mining precious metals, isn't it?


Mountains are much more defensible than plains or hills. It only makes sense that dwarves would build their fortified cities in the mountains and then if there is a lack of minerals at the city site (and really, who wants to live in a mining site) go down to the foothills to mine.

Also it's probably easier to carve your huge halls and gigantic statues out of a big mountain than to dig through the silt on the plains down to the bedrock.

  • $\begingroup$ "who wants to live in a mining site" I present thee... Kiruna, of Sweden. $\endgroup$ – a CVn Jun 28 '17 at 15:13
  • $\begingroup$ Point taken though I'm from up north and know people who were born and grew up in Kiruna. My point still stands ;) Also, the fact that the entire city is being moved because it may fall into the mine also kind of speaks against the wisdom of living that close to the mining site. $\endgroup$ – Doomfrost Jun 29 '17 at 7:32

Well maybe your Dwarves sunburn very easily. In which case they would want to stick to dark areas. Underground and when they had to go above, then they could take advantage of the massive shadows of mountains to reduce light levels hitting them(or you know, just become nocturnal) Bring in the Vampire Dwarves!


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