JOHANNESBURG (miningweekly.com) – University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) scientists have warned that the existence of Canteen Kopje, a key archaeological and historic heritage site near Barkly West in the Northern Cape, in South Africa, is in jeopardy owing to an illegal mining operation as well as other illegal miner activity.
Researchers from Wits’ Archaeology Department were mounting efforts with key stakeholders at the McGregor Museum, Sol Plaatje University, the University of Toronto and the University of Pennsylvania to save the important research and tourism site.
“Various locations excavated over the years at this site preserve a lengthy archaeological sequence, including the earliest stone tools in Southern Africa suggested to be 2.3-million years old, at least three phases of the Acheulean hand axe culture, the middle and later stone ages and historic deposits that document the first contact between local inhabitants and the earliest miners in South Africa,” said Wits archaeology professor Kathleen Kuman.
The scientists reported that a private diamond mining company had, this month, begun work in a very sensitive area of the site and had been erecting fencing that not only included the current excavations by the team of Wits scientists and by the University of Toronto, but also part of the site developed for tourism, blocking access to the public, as well as for the archaeologists.
The scientists added that the mining company was operating without a permit from the South African Heritage Resources Agency (Sahra), a direct contravention of the National Heritage Resources Act.
“All gazetted heritage sites in this country require a permit from Sahra if they are to be disturbed in any way; hence, this mining company is in contravention of an Act of the Republic of South Africa,” she noted.
Kuman added that this continued threat and the activities of other illegal miners over the years threatened to destroy both the ancient and more recent heritage of South Africa, along with the opportunity for local students to further develop their knowledge of this important heritage.
“For the sake of short-term financial gain in diamond mining, the long-term, more sustainable benefits of heritage tourism and of archaeological research of much international importance, are being jeopardised,” she stated.