When the Danish-Norwegian priest Hans Egede came to Greenland in 1721, his essential objectives were to do missionary work and to look for possibilities of exploiting local resources. At that time, whaling was the main activity for Europeans in Greenland. However, 20 years later Hans Egede reported the presence of graphite. In 1780, German miners were employed for coal mining in the Disko Bay area. Later, geologists came to Greenland, and the first mining (for copper) was carried out in the period 1851-52 by an English company.

This was soon followed by the mining of a white mineral known as cryolite, valuable for soda and enamel production. From 1900, mining was dominated by the cryolite production from Ivittuut, especially after cryolite was recognised in the 1890s as crucial for the production of aluminium. In 1987, the cryolite mine, operated by the Danish Cryolite Company, was abandoned after 130 years of activity.

The mineral potential of West Greenland was gradually investigated, along with the potential of East Greenland. Over the period 1953-59, the lead-zinc mine in Mestersvig in central East Greenland was operated by the Northern Mining Company.

The Black Angel lead-zinc-silver mine in Maarmorilik, near Uummannaq in West Greenland, 400 km north of the Arctic circle, was operated by Cominco Ltd over the period 1973-86, and from 1986 by Boliden AB. The mine was closed down in 1990 when most of the ore body had been mined. The remaining ore reserve of approximately 2 Mt is currently being assessed as a basis for reopening the mine.

The mines at Maarmorilik and Ivittuut were both very profitable operations which, in addition, brought significant socio-economic benefits to their communities.