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We’ve blogged a great deal about the mining industry’s social and environmental impacts. Now, in the country of Georgia, a mining company threatens a cultural heritage site – one that can shed more light on the origin of all humans.

Russian-owned RMG Gold is attempting to mine in Sakdrisi in southeastern Georgia, thought to be one of the first sites for gold mining in human history, before it has been fully excavated and studied by archeologists.

Sakdrisi-Kachagiani is considered a site of crucial cultural importance.  Georgian archaeologists excavated tools and caves that suggest the  mine dates back to around 3000, BC. Under state heritage law protection, the area became listed as a historical site in 2006

But in 2013, the government removed the protected status of this area, while also allowing  RMG Gold to begin its mining project . A few weeks ago, the government downplayed the importance of the site, saying that it would be “impracticable to impede employment of thousands of people and improvement of business environment based on a myth.”

Many people are unconvinced that the decision to allow mining at the site was made in a fair and transparent manner. RMG is one of Georgia’s largest taxpayers, operating one of the country’s largest copper mines. Civil society groups have raised questions as to how they were granted permission to mine in such a special area.

A petition has called for a halt to mining in Sakdrisi. It argues that the committee who decided to remove the protected status was unfairly balanced, as it included RMG contractors who had no experience in mining archaeology or Sakdrisi history. Out of 11 members, only two have expertise in archaeology. According to the petition, both specialists confirmed in writing that without complete investigation of the area, mining in Sakdrisi would be irresponsible.

The ministry has offered to invite independent international experts to monitor RMG’s mining practices, so in the case of a scientific discovery, the artifacts can be researched and placed in museums. But this case shows that even areas with both cultural significance and legal protection are not necessarily safe from irresponsible mining.

Humans have been mining gold for thousands of years, as the Sakdrisi site revealed. But industrial mining is a comparatively recent – and far more destructive – phenomenon. Destroying a site of national pride and international significance is a dirty move.

Post by Samantha Hoilett

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