The existence of the Riphean and Hyperborean mountains at the eastern fringe of Europe in antiquity was regarded as being more mythical than real.
Not until the 10th century AD does the first mention of the Urals occur, in Arabic sources. At the end of the 11th century the Russians discovered the northernmost part of the Urals, but they did not complete the discovery of the entire range until the beginning of the 17th century, when the mineral wealth of the Urals was discovered.
The first geographic survey of the chain was made in the early 18th century by the Russian historian and geographer Vasily N. Tatishchev, who undertook the survey for Peter I the Great. Systematic extraction of iron and copper ore also began at that time, and the Urals rapidly became one of the largest industrial regions of Russia.
The first serious scientific study of the Urals was made in 1770-71. Scholars studying the Urals during the 19th century included several Russian scientists, such as the geologist A.D. Karpinsky, the botanist P.N. Krylov, and the zoologist L.P. Sabaneev, and also such prominent foreign scholars as the German naturalist Alexander von Humboldt and the English geologist Sir Roderick Murchison, who compiled the first geologic map of the Urals in 1841.
Much work was done in the Soviet period on geologic structure and associated mineral resources.