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1800 in Sweden

Lithium

Story - told by Lilliana Grbic

Utö is one the islands farthest out in the southern part of the Stockholm archipelago. It rose from the sea at the end of the Ice Age, around 10 000 years ago. It is about 10 km long. First residential traces were found on the south side of the island in the grave fields of Skogsby. Remains of the first settlement date back to 550 – 1050 AD. At that time, inhabitants were probably nomadic fishermen and hunters.

Mining on the Utö island

Today, at Utö, the island has about 250 permanent residents. They still have an active church as well as a primary school.

Utö road sign


The windmill, built in 1791, is not active but worth a visit. From the windmill, you have the best view point of Utö. Today, Utö is a very appreciated summer retreat but how it became that, that is another story…

The remaining trenches are today deep and filled with water.

Mining on the island started in the 12th century and went on for more than 700 years. Ore was mined until 1879. The remaining trenches are today deep and filled with water. Our story starts 1790-1800. It is about a visitor José Bonifácio de Andrada e Silva (1763-1838) a famous Brazilian/Portuguese mineralogist. He was the first to recognize the uniqueness of a mineral which had the shape of a leaf. He observed that this mineral gave an intense crimson flame when thrown into a fire.

José Bonifácio de Andrada e Silva (1763-1838)

The discovery, partially isolating the main element, was accomplished in 1817 by the chemist Johan August Arfwedson and Jöns Jacob Berzelius. Johan August named this alkali metal by Greek lithion,in translation = stone; Lithium has the number three in the periodic table and is one of the truly multi-purpose elements. Since 1950s it is used in medicine for calming patients.

There are some notes indicating use of lithium as a treatment for both mania and melancholia in ancient Greece. In the 2nd century AD, physician Soranus of Ephesus treated manic patients with the alkaline mineral waters from his region. These waters, we know now, contain very high levels of lithium. However, at the time, it was not known what substance enriched the waters. Lithiums ability to transfer heat makes it ideal for rechargeable batteries.

The origin of lithium’s discovery at Utö is not very well known. While walking around the island, there is only one very small plate referencing this, located beside the trenches.

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