To the west of Ethiopia near the Sudanese border lies a place called the Asosa zone. This may be the location of the oldest gold mine in the world. Dating back some 6,000 years, it provided a key source of gold to the ancient Egyptian empire, whose great wealth was famous throughout the known world. It may even have supplied the Queen of Sheba with her lavish gifts of gold when she visited King Solomon of Israel almost 3,000 years ago.
The excitement in this part of the world is more about the future, however. Some local inhabitants already make a living from prospecting, and several mining companies have been active in the area in recent years, too.
But what comes next could be on a much bigger scale: I have just co-published with my colleague, Owen Morgan, new geological research that suggests that much more treasure might be buried under the surface of this east African country than was previously thought.
The Asosa zone is made up of flatlands, rugged valleys, mountainous ridges, streams, and rivers. It is densely vegetated by bamboo and incense trees, with remnants of tropical rainforests along the river valleys. The zone, which is part of Ethiopia’s Benishangul-Gumuz region, is spotted with archaeological sites containing clues to how people lived here thousands of years ago, together with ancient mining pits and trenches.
Local inhabitants have long taken advantage of these riches. They pan for gold in Asosa’s streams and also extract the precious metal directly from outcropping rocks.