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The oldest mine in the world is the Ngwenya Mine, Swaziland

Mining remains an important industry across the modern world, and had its origins in Stone Age Africa. At least 43, 000 years ago, people were mining for red haematite and specularite at the Ngwenya Mine in what is now Swaziland. Amazingly, the mine was worked to extract the ochre used in burial ceremonies and to colour peoples’ bodies, a coquettish hint at a complex culture we will never fully understand. The lustrous red ochre extracted from the mine was also used by later people for cave paintings, and more prosaically for iron ore smelting from 400 AD onwards.

It’s worth taking a moment to consider how tough it must have been to dig Ngwenya with only primitive stone tools, let alone how great lumps of rock could have been hauled out. Moreover, how the riches beneath the earth’s surface were discovered is itself a fascinating thought. Ngwenya, after all, is also on the Bomvu Ridge, a mountainous region which must have been extremely difficult, and not a little scary, to access. Exploiting the earth’s hidden natural resources all began here. Africa is ludicrously rich in metal and minerals, and mining remains an important industry on the continent today.

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