How This Abandoned Mining Town in Greenland Helped Win World War II – by Katie Lockhart (Smithsonian Magazine – December 27, 2019)

It was a foggy morning in south Greenland as I stood on deck and peered at the mountains poking through the clouds. Our Adventure Canada expedition ship docked offshore, and we disembarked on Zodiac boats to what looked like a ghost town.

Scattered on the rocky shore were little white chunks of cryolite, a mineral once used in the production of aluminum. As the mist swept through the empty houses dotting the shorelines, we walked up to the mine—a pit spanning 755 feet long and 656 feet wide—and looked over at a glassy, water-filled bottom. Meandering through the abandoned mining town, relics of the past—old engines and bottles—mixed with fresh tire tracks and cigarette butts left by musk ox hunters passing through the area.

Founded in 1854, the town of Ivittuut (formerly Ivigtut) once held the world’s largest reserve of naturally occurring cryolite. The Inuits, who liked to camp there during the summers, had long known about cryolite, which they would add to their snuff or tobacco.

“In the beginning of the 18th century, there were samples of cryolite sent to Copenhagen, probably by a German named Karl Ludwig Giesecke, an employee of The Royal Greenland Trading Department (KGH) owned by Denmark,” says Peter Barfoed, a former Ivittuut resident who now lives and works as an architect in Greenland’s capital Nuuk.

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