BY Stephen Nartey, 4:00pm November 28, 2022,

Africans perfected the art of mining 43,000 years ago before the arrival of Europeans

Ngwenya Mine. Image via Wikimedia Commons

The minerals mined by the early men in Africa were likely red haematite and specularite. The archaeological findings were excavated from the Ngwenya Mine, situated at the northwestern border of Eswatini (Swaziland) in Southern Africa.

The evidence suggests that the prehistoric men in Africa engaged in mining some 43,000 years ago. The researchers said the evidence presupposes that the mining activity occurred during the Middle Stone Age, according to 54 History.

The knowledge of mining in the southern part of Africa was handed over to generations over 100,000 years ago. One of the deposits, which is the red ochre, was widely used by the San people of present-day Swaziland for their paintings.

The researchers indicated that Swazi names of those paintings like libovu and ludumane which means red ochre and sparkling ochre respectively suggest that mining in those parts had existed for a longer period than the dating analysis pointed to.  

The archaeologists are connecting the smelting of ore in that region to the Bantu-speaking people who migrated to the north of the Limpopo River around 400 A.D. One of the activities the Bantu-speaking people engaged in was using iron hammers to extract ore from these minerals which they traded for iron. Though they were largely agro-pastoralists, iron was of immense importance to them and their daily sustenance in the region.

The discovery of an open-cast mine in 1964 suggests the importance of mining to the economy of Swaziland. The infrastructure developed as a result of this included railway lines and electrical wiring to facilitate the mining activity. The researchers said the presence of the Matsapha Industrial Site development was because of the pressing need to ensure the survival of the open-cast mine.

Archaeologists say the mines in Swaziland are the oldest mining pits to exist on earth. Dating analysis conducted on molds and charcoal lumps from the mine in 1940 established that it was 43,000 years old. They believe that the mine could be much older than the date the scientific analysis had provided because emerging data suggests that the ores from there were mined as early as 23,000 years ago.

The researchers said the tools excavated at the mining site are indicative of the fact that the early men were technologically inclined in how they shaped and structured the tools. The tools included picks and hammers made from dolerite as well as choppers, which were found in rock paintings in the region.

The history of mining in Swaziland also shows how industrial development was of immense interest to the southern African region. As time went on, the early miners improved their tools of work from stone to iron to enable them to effectively mine ore from the pits.

Historians say that though the culture of mining has gone extinct among inhabitants of Swaziland, it doesn’t negate the fact of how inclined the prehistoric men were to industrial growth and the development of tools to sustain that social change.

Last Edited by:Mildred Europa Taylor Updated: November 28, 2022


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