NGWENYA MINES – ONE OF THE WORLD’S OLDEST MINES IN NORTH-WESTERN ESWATINI
In 2006 Earth Systems published a newsletter “A brief History of Mining” telling that “The first mining efforts involved searching for the stones most appropriate for making tools. Primary stone tools are approximately 2.6 million years old, predating even Homo Sapiens. Hence, this time tracks the use of rocks as throwing weapons around 1.9 million years ago, following soon after by digging for the best cutting stones and stone tools.”
As Homos Sapiens developed and the population grew, communities began to replace the nomadic lifestyle. Early tribes located around primary resources of food, water, and shelter were readily available. Soon after, the location of other natural resources began to have an impact on human settlement. Mined materials were probably among the first materials traded. Some tribes may have had regular access to chert or obsidian, highly valued for their sharp edges. Others may have had access to the best clay for making pots, bowls, or other utensils. Ngwenya Mine is situated on the north-western border of Eswatini formerly named Swaziland, between today’s South Africa and Mozambique. Its iron ore deposits constitute one of the oldest geological formations in the world, and also have the distinction of being the site of one of the world’s earliest mining activity.
Some historians claim that the oldest mine in the world is the chert (silica) mine at Nazlet Sabaha, Garb, Egypt. It is estimated to have first been in use around 100,000 years ago.
Deposits at Ngwenya were worked at least 42 000 years BP (Before Present) for the extraction of red haematite and specularite (sparkling ores). The peoples concerned belonged to the Middle Stone Age, which flourished in southern Africa for about 100 000 years, until almost 20 000 years ago. The red ochre was also used by later peoples. the ancestors of the present San (Bushman) peoples for their rock paintings, of which there are many in Swaziland. The Swazi names of these pigments “libovu” (red ochre) and “ludumane” (sparkling ochre) indicate that exploitation of these minerals extended into historical times.
In 1964 charcoal nodules from the site were sent for radio carbon dating and a date of 43000BC was obtained making this one of the oldest known mining operation in the world. However the mine can be older than this date. It is thought this ores were mined until 23000BC. Ancient mining tools found in the site were more specialised and foreign to those that were found on Stone Age sites. These were choppers. picks and hammers made of dolerite and were identified as mining tools. They produced evidence of early iron ore mining and mining of red ochre that was widely wed in cultural activities and in rock paintings. C14 dates obtained before hand place the beginning of iron ore mining at about 400AD. This mine constitutes of two mines. The red ochre and haematite mine which date to 43000BC and the iron ore mine which date back to 400AD.
This mine contains history of early industrial development for the Southern African Region. Iron Ore was also mined and supplied to other parts of the region. This iron ore mining eventually led to the gradual change of tools in the region from stone tools to iron tools.
(Source: Earth Systems/Wikipedia/UNESCO/Guiness World Records)