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3 Quarry Workers

Before electric lighting, the experience of the underground worker was very different from the experience of the workers in open-pit quarries above. Outdoor workers were limited by the amount of daylight and the weather. Larger stones tended to have been quarried outside.

 

A limestone mine with metal straps bolted to the matrix to prevent movement and slippage.Archive photography of a granite mine. Vermont, USA

 

Underground quarries got darker and darker as the tunnel receded from the cave entrance. The temperature underground never gets cold but it never gets warm either, always hovering around 12 degrees Celsius. Until a little more than a hundred years ago underground workers would have worked in near darkness, their only light coming from meagre oil lamps. Of the many hazards of working in darkness one of the worst was 'quarryman blindness'. Year after year of working in poor lightning slowly and irredeemably damaged their sight. Those who survived beyond 30 years could be completely blind.

Getting accurately paid for the work done was a problem that needed to be solved. Each block that the underground worker cut free would receive an individual mark. Blocks with each signature could then be counted. Quarry marks are signatures of the craftsman but also 'signatures of exit' as the stone leaves the quarry. Mason and quarry marks both signs of transition left on the stone as it passes to a new phase. These marks did more than claim credit for the work done. They were also signs that that worker accepted responsibility for the quality of the work. Such 'signatures' preceded signature use in other aspects of the culture.


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