19th-century coal mining

19th-century coal mining

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Credit: SHEILA TERRY/SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY

Caption: 19th-century coal mining. Historical artwork of a coal mine worker igniting methane gas in a coal mine. This gas (also called fire-damp) is formed naturally by coal, and accumulated in the tunnels during a day's work. Every night, a worker called the penitent would ignite the gas using a lighted candle on the end of a long pole. He was called a penitent because he looked like a monk doing penance as he crawled along the ground wrapped in protective clothing with a hood and mask. Crawling allowed him to breathe the air under the methane. The penitent was in great danger of being killed by the explosions he ignited. Artwork published in Mines and Miners (L. Simonin, 1868).

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