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Topic: Controlling resources
Controlling resources
The effect on mass prospecting on the environment and indigenous populations cannot be overestimated. The California gold rush of the 1840s, the Yukon gold rush of the 1890s, and prospecting in the Amazon today: all have altered the landscape and changed the lives of native populations beyond recognition.
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Gold, the discovery of which sparked the California rush in the 1840s.
Credit: Science Museum/Science & Society Picture Library


The multitudes of pioneers descending on ‘undiscovered’ country have often found it difficult enough just to scrape together a living. Accord

Escalating tension
led to bloodshed as white settlers ousted Native Americans

ing to Seweryn Korzelinski, a Polish prospector in 1850s Australia, ‘all week the miners dig, wash gold and work like bullocks’. Conflict over access to valuable resources and land often results. In the 1848-49 California gold rush, American prospectors vehemently defended what they saw as their gold – native rights to land were not considered. Escalating tension led to bloodshed as white settlers ousted Native Americans, embarking on what one American official referred to as a ‘war of extinction’.

Problems were not limited to the immediate area. Prospectors travelling across the plains on their way to the gold mines came into direct conflict with Native Americans for resources – notably water, food and wood.In the 1840s there had been an estimated 150,000 Native Americans in California, but by 1870 they numbered only 30,000, due to the combi
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The Klondyke Nugget Show, 1900-1903. The Klondyke Nugget Show was popular at the height of the Yukon goldrush.
Credit: Science Museum/Science & Society Picture Library
ned pressures of conflict and disease. Fifty ye
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This ore prospector's cabinet comes from Germany.
Credit: Science Museum/Science & Society Picture Library
ars later in the Yukon, the large numbers of prospectors and new trade and communication links obliterated the traditional trade patterns and threatened the culture of native tribes.

Conflict over resources can also have unforeseen and enduring consequences. Today, 150 years after the California gold rush, some surviving Indian communities are living on land still toxic from the thousands of tons of mercury used by the ‘forty-niners’.

Similar problems are facing some Amazonian tribes as they come to terms with the environmental damage caused by an estimated 500,000 gold prospectors.

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Topic: Controlling space
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Maps are powerful political tools, revealing what is known and what remains unknown. Filling in and naming the ‘blanks’ on the map becomes an invitation to explore, influence and ultimately control, turning space into territory and legitimising a conqueror’s rights to it.  > more

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Topic: Controlling people
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Explorers have seized indigenous people to act as guides into unknown regions, as human trophies, as scientific evidence, or even as potential subjects of social experimentation. The number of people cruelly kidnapped by explorers will never be known.  > more
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