The gold in Sakdrisi hill is too much of a temptation for the government

What is worth more: a unique historic site or gold that lies within it?

That is a question Georgians have been grappling with since their government gave permission for industrial excavation to start at what scientists claim is the oldest known gold mine in the world.

The archaeological area, known as Sakdrisi, is a small grassy hill in the Bolnisi region, in the picturesque foothills of south-eastern Georgia.

For 10 years Professor Thomas Stoellner, a leading specialist in mining archaeology from the University of Bochum, Germany, has been studying the archaeological record at Sakdrisi together with his Georgian colleagues.

“When we went to do the first survey we found hammer stones – typical mining tools – thousands of them,” says Prof Stoellner, who believes that tunnels inside the hill date back 5,400 years.

Video of artifacts

“At once I realised the importance of the site. When we got the first value carbon dates, and they were around 3,000 BC, it was clear that this was an exciting find which had never occurred in pre-historic mining.”

Recently discovered artefacts including a unique set of spiral gold earrings found in neighbouring Azerbaijan can be traced to Sakdrisi, according to Prof Stoellner.

‘No proof’

The Georgian government used to share this excitement and Sakdrisi was a protected cultural heritage site. But that status has been removed, and Professor Stoellner’s views are being challenged.

“It’s not proven that Sakdrisi is an ancient gold mine – it’s just an assumption,” Georgia’s Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili recently said at a meeting with university students.

Does that change in position have much to do with the mine’s potential as a source of employment and revenue in the region?

Sakdrisi sits on prime territory licensed to a commercial gold mining company, RMG Gold. The Russian-owned company is a major investor in the Georgian economy.

Source: BBC News