Balkans Mystery Tour: The Mine of Alshar

Map of Macedonia. (Source: C.I.A. World Factbook)

They say it holds a secret no less than that of the Universe. That it guards the answer to the power of the Sun. No, it is not the latest Spielberg blockbuster. It is a mine. But a mine covered in a veil of mystery.

Alshar, an ancient mine located in the southern Balkans, in Macedonia, is said to contain minerals that are found nowhere else on the planet. The rarest of them all—the lorandite, a crystal of the thallium. The lorandite is thought to have the potential to unravel the so-called "neutrino puzzle." By serving as a geochemical detector of the neuron, the lorandite could validate or disprove the theory of the standard solar system, say physicists. In simple terms—it would let us understand the work of the Sun.

The Ottomans, who ruled the peninsula until the beginning of the 20th century, called it Majdan (the word for "mine" in Turkish). This was also the name given to the nearest village. They explored for gold. But they were not the first ones at the mine. According to some, the mine has existed for over 5,000 years.

It has eight entrances, two of which lead through corridors that extend up to 6 kilometers and have cobblestone pathways, placed there by the Ottomans. The mine has been closed for decades.

Media reports tell the story that in the late 70's the Macedonian government had a secret session, at the request of the federal authorities of former Yugoslavia, to decide whether to concede a "great power" (Russia?) to conduct research for space purposes in Alshar.

At the beginning of the 20th century, elite universities from Budapest, Vienna and Prague began examining the then unknown minerals from the mine.

Nowadays people from the nearby villages serve as guides to "mysterious" foreigners who visit the mine. The visitors go inside the mine to collect minerals from its bowels. These stories abound often mixed with an element of fantasy. They talk of helicopters that do screening from above—helicopters bearing the marks of the national government but also of foreign militaries. (There is a large foreign military presence in the region.) Villagers say the mine is full of minerals that glow in different colors.

According to experts, many world scientists are very interested in exploring Alshar. The lorandite from the mine can register in a chemical and physical way the so-called neutrino flux coming from the Sun. And they say it is the only known substance that has this power. If the neutrino could be explored, science could understand the processes that go on inside the Sun. Some say with awe that it could lead to an understanding of the past but also of the future of our galaxy.

How did it ever get there, and only there? On a mountain (Kozuf) in the southern Balkans? One assumption, again resembling a movie scenario, is that it fell from the Sun, following an eruption a billion years ago.

Despite all the mystery, the fact is undisputed that Alshar is the only known place on the planet that contains the lorandite, a mineral of potentially huge significance in physics.

According to rough estimates, the mine could have reserves of up to 40 tons of lorandite. A few grams of lorandite for lab research is said to cost about 5-6 euros.

Local scientists have come forward in the past with the idea to have the mine protected by UNESCO and have suggested that it be turned into a resort for global science tourism. It could attract up to several thousand researchers a year, they say, including atomic physicists, space scientists, geologists, and of course many adventurers. The zone around the mine should be developed, and the mine itself should be restored, its corridors lighted, and new pathways built. They say many NASA people would enjoy coming and staying for work and holidays combined.

All agree that Macedonia has the lorandite and should do more for promoting the "hunt" of the neutrino.

A decade ago, the LOREX project (lorandite experiment) was initiated by scientists from all over former Yugoslavia, in cooperation with international labs. The key to the neutrino is the key to the door of Alshar, they said.

A few years ago, the mine was registered as a natural monument and made part of the Emerald Network of "areas of special conservation interest," created by the Council of Europe.

This year, the Macedonian government has initiated a project to have the mine protected. This would mean that any type of activity in Alshar would require prior government permission. At present, the place is completely unrestricted for any type of visit.

Villagers' stories continue. Just next to the mine is a small hill where the grass is always green. Neither man nor livestock can step a foot on it, they say. It will knock down even the largest cow that roams the pasture, as the hill is full of thallium, one of the most potent of poisons.

The immediate zone around the mine has geothermal waters, and the outer edges of the village of Majdan abound with a white mineral that the villagers use for washing and cleaning.

If the power of the Sun could be understood, say scientists, then hypothetically, humanity could reproduce it. It could create many "small suns." Energy production facilities akin to nuclear plants, but without the radioactivity. They could produce environmentally clean power.

Is it a fantasy, or not?

Originally published by Osservatorio sui Balcani Republished by permission of the author.

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