Ngwenya Mountain has the world's oldest known mine, the Lion Cavern, where, around 41 000 BC, Hematite was mined for cosmetic and ritual uses. This ancient mine is located next to the modern open cast iron ore mine. Iron ore mining is mainly found on the Ngwenya mountain massif. It contains deposits of high grade iron ore which have been worked continuously for the past 50 000 years.
The archaeologist, Peter Beaumont, produced evidence of mining in the middle Stone Age, later Stone Age and Iron Age. At Ngwenya, Middle Stone Age man tunnelled into the precipitous western face in search of iron pigments, the weathered ochreous forms of Hematite (libomvu) near the surface, and the harder black glistening form of the ore called specularite (ludumare). In 1967 charcoal nodules from some of the more ancient tunnels were sent to both Yale and Groningen radiocarbon laboratories where Carbon 14 testing was carried out on it. A date of about 43 000 BC or 41 000 BC was obtained, making this the oldest known mining operation in the world. It is thought these ores were mined until at least 23 000 BC. At Lion Cavern it is estimated that at least 1 200 tons of soft hematite ore, rich in specularite, had been removed in ancient times.
“Lion Caven” is situated in the Malolotja Nature Reserve. The geology of Malolotja is very diverse and includes some granites (Lochiel Granite, estimated to be about 3 000 million years old), but is predominantly made up of metamorphosed sedimentary rock formations of the Barberton Mountains, including the Onverwacht, Fig Tree and Moodies series of rocks. These rocks are thought to be about 3500 million years old, and are thought to contain fossils of the earth's oldest life forms - blue-green algae (see EarthCache GC1Y2R7). It is in these mountains that the ironstones, talc schists and other metal bearing rocks are found, where the various mining activities have been carried out over the last hundred years.
Malolotja is situated on the great southern African escarpment where it embraces the ecotone between the highveld and middleveld. Ironstones and quartzites are common and, because of their greater resistance to erosion, give rise to the rugged relief of the region and stand up as high mountain ranges and peaks. The best examples include Ngwenya Mountain, Silotfwane Mountain and the Mgwayiza Range. The more gentle undulating hills and slopes are composed of softer rocks such as soapstones. This has given rise to landscapes such as the upper Malolotja and Majolomba river valleys and the Malolotja Vlei. Younger rocks, such as the granites, are found along the eastern border of the reserve. Some of the granite formations are crossed by dolerite dykes and these are also resistant to erosion. The most prominent of these formations would include the big boulders near the log cabins, the Majolomba Picnic Site and Tjomoloti Hill just below the Nkomati Viewpoint. Outside the reserve boundary, overlooking the Malanti valley, is an almost vertical exposed face of rock made up entirely of granite. This magnificent feature can be seen from the Nkomati Viewpoint road inside the reserve.
Internet link http://www.sntc.org.sz/cultural/ironmine.html
Jan 4, 1930. The SA Mining and Engineering Journal.
Dec 28 1929. The SA Mining and Engineering Journal.
Feb 1988, John R Masson. Mining at Ngwenya - both Ancient and Modern, Causes and Effect.
To get credit for a find on this EarthCache you need to answer the following questions in a mail to the cache owner.
- If you use the metal stairs leading down to the Lion Caven, you will find a Info board just before you enter the Lion Caven. What “People” are revered to in line two on this sign?
- Please indicate in the mail to the cache owner; how many steps leads up on the stairs from the hiking trail to the viewpoint?
- Please indicate in the mail to the cache owner; how many steps leads down on the stairs from the viewpoint to the Lion Caven?
- Estimate the height and width of the ancient mine on the left when you enter the Lion Caven?
- Describe the rocks at the viewpoint, and if you can notice “rusting” of the iron in the rocks taking place? (ie colour, grain size)
- Optional you can take a picture at the viewpoint with the Iron ore mine visible and attach the photos in your log.