The world’s oldest gold mine is in danger of destruction
Together with Georgian archaeologists, the Deutsches Bergbau-Museum Bochum (DBM) has been studying the gold mine of Sakdrisi since 2004. It is located around 50 kilometres southwest of the Georgian capital, Tbilisi, in a hill called Kachagiani (in the Sakdrisi area). Our investigations have found that this mine is some 5000 years old. This makes it the oldest underground gold mine in the world. This outstanding cultural and historical site is now to fall victim to an open-cast gold mine.
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Kachagiani Hill, location of the 5000-year-old gold mine (2007)
What has happened so far
Due to the mine’s exceptional significance, the Georgian government awarded it the status of a national cultural monument in 2006. In July 2013 this comprehensive protection was then removed by the Ministry of Culture and Monument Protection and by the President of Georgia, and the site was downgraded to the lower status of a “normal” archaeological monument. In October 2013 this status was also removed by the then Prime Minister. The licence-holder, the mining company “RMG Gold Ltd” (RMG), regained the rights to mine gold deposits in Georgia, which it had held since 1994. RMG has now begun to operate an open-cast mine in the Sakdrisi area.
The current state of affairs
German and Georgian researchers, as well as ordinary citizens, have subsequently made numerous written appeals to the Georgian government.Go to petition
Regular protests and demonstrations are taking place in the capital, Tbilisi, and in Sakdrisi. Activists have taken up positions on site, and are camping at some distance from the open-cast mine. As the protesters are not allowed to enter or remain in the close vicinity of the area around the hill, they have erected a platform from which they “monitor” the RMG’s work. The activists are the object of intense media coverage. They also receive supplies and support from the local population.
This whole development has its roots in the withdrawal of the site’s status as a cultural monument. A commission was established by the government which did not take into consideration the scientific advice based on our 10 years of internationally recognized research. The mining company “ascertained” that this had not been a gold mine. Nor did they discern any evidence of ancient mining activity on the site, instead finding only modern prospecting adits (dating from 1987).
It was these modern adits which allowed us, back in 2004, to encounter traces of “old” mining (abandoned workings) at a depth of just under 20 metres below the earth’s surface. The actual age of these workings was established by several 14C analyses of charcoal remains taken from the undisturbed layers of the narrow diggings. They dated back to the first half of the 3rd millennium BC. Numerous additional investigations have confirmed and expanded on this finding. In the last 10 years we have supplied regular reports and published various articles on this subject. These were, at the time, highly praised. But suddenly they are no longer being taken into consideration in decision-making processes. The DBM and our Georgian colleagues are deeply disappointed and shocked by this development.
Demonstration by Georgian activists in the Georgian capital, Tbilisi, for the preservation of the gold mine
“Save Sakdrisi”, Georgian activists protesting on site in Sakdrisi
Picture on left: The adits from the 1980s (upper part) have cut into the old mine workings (below right). We are excavating these areas. – Picture on right: Backfill in old mine with recognizable stratification. Here the black charcoal which was used for dating is clearly visible.
What happens next?
In response to national and international pressure, a new commission has been appointed with experts from various countries. Prof. Dr. Albrecht Jockenhövel (emeritus head of prehistoric and protohistoric archaeology in the History Department at the University of Münster) is a member of this new commission appointed to deal with Sakdrisi. The aim is in the first instance to stop all activities contributing to the destruction of the mine, to recognize the scientific findings, and to incorporate these in the decision-making process regarding the preservation of the Sakdrisi mine. A fair discussion must be held.
Meanwhile, the activities and protests on the ground (in the capital, Tbilisi, and in Sakdrisi) are continuing. Every day, the major Georgian newspapers (e.g. http://www.ttimes.ge/archives/19737) and the main TV news programmes run reports on the oldest gold mine in the world, the company RMG Gold and the Deutsches Bergbau-Museum Bochum and its partners.
Heavy equipment is brought to Sakdrisi and preparations are made for mining.
Prof. Dr. Thomas Stöllner in an interview with BBC News, Tbilisi
Wednesday, 28 May
Links to further information