Australian Mining and Engineering Review 1(6) : 190-191 (Mar 5, 1909)
OLD NATIVE WORKINGS IN SOUTH AFRICA
By Lt.-Col. T. S. Parrott, Mining and Consulting Engineer, Johannesburg.

A source of scientific enquiry which is not known in Australia is the evidence of ancient workers frequently met with. So far as the author's own observations have been concerned, such occurrences extend from the Limpopo River, in the northern Transvaal, to Cape Town, and from the Indian Ocean to the Atlantic. The most noted of these workings are on iron and copper lodes, although they frequently exist on silver-lead and gold deposits; and in the Orange River Colony there is a diamond pipe (known as the Monastery Mine) which was worked in ancient times, but not for diamonds. In this pipe some of the accessory minerals such as garnet and ilmenite (ilmenite is the so-called carbon of the miner here)—are present in very large quantities, and, the garnet (pyrope) is frequently found as large as a football. It is possible that the ancient workers mined only for the garnet, which is frequently rich in colour and attractive; but it is unlikely that the discovery of diamonds in volcanic vents goes back to such a remote period as that in which the Monastery Mine was undoubtedly worked.

The ancient metalliferous workings probably date back only to the time of the early Portuguese settlers on the east coast of South Africa. There is evidence (at all events, in this part of Africa) that the principal efforts were directed to copper deposits, and it seems quite likely that the discoveries of Cortez in Mexico, and the Pizarro brothers in South America, may have stimulated the Portuguese settlers in South Africa to search for this metal. In this way the natives may have become familiar with methods of mining and smelting. A few years ago the author visited some extensive old workings in the north-east of the Transvaal, north of the Oliphants River. Here there was evidence that quite large bodies of ore were taken out and smelted. The sites of the old native camps were shown by the remains of huts and the clearance of timber in the vicinity, with an occasional small smelting hearth near the but remains, in which there was a quantity of slag. A piece of the slag contained a small copper bead, and the author also secured two copper sticks from an old native chief. The natives in the locality of the old workings can, however, give little or no information as to the workers. A close examination of many of the dumps by the side of the open workings failed to give the smallest piece of ore to show what kind of lode was worked. The present depth of some of the workings is from 30 to 40 feet, but from shafts the author put down in the bottom of the cuts it was evident that the workings were carried down to a much greater depth, the stuff passed through being mullock of the same character as that in the dumps on the surface, and in several places he came upon rubble retaining walls, which suggested that the workers had reached the lower levels by means of a succession of sloping ramps, up which the native carriers probably brought the ore to the surface. In some places these workings are now covered on the sides and bottom with a deposit of calcareous tufa, or travertin, to the thick ness of from 6 to 12 inches, which, together with fairly large trees now growing in the workings, would indicate a considerable lapse of time since the period of active work; and yet this period is not so remote as to justify the application to the workings of the term "ancient" in its general acceptance.

Exploratory work is now in progress in this locality under the author’s direction, and the result may be an addition to the little at present known of these interesting mineral workers of a time long gone by.

There are in this district, north of the Oliphants River, as far as the Limpopo River, and with the Drakensberg Mountains on the west, and the Portuguese boundary on the east, highly mineralised zonesóchiefly gold and copperóbut there are also some very important mica deposits, upon which work is now being started. The difficulties are many. The district is in what is known as the "low country" (that is, an elevation of from 1500 to 2000 feet above sea level), in many parts malarial fever is bad, and for transport only donkeys can be used, as horse sickness and toetse fly are in many places prevalent. Lions are often troublesome, and transport animals have to be carefully kraaled every night, with a high barrier of thorny acacia. Geologically the formation over the whole of the district consists of granites intruded into the older schists and sandstones; known here as the "Swazi beds." The contemplated railway will remove many of the difficulties, and lessen the cost of transport, which is now very high.

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