Activists gathered outside the Ministry of Culture on December 15, 2014 to protest against decision giving go-ahead to the gold and mining company, RMG, to carry out mining activities at Sakdrisi hillock in southern Georgian, which some archeologists believe is one of the world’s oldest gold mine. Photo: Eana Korbezashvili/Civil.ge
The Georgian National Museum said it’s “extremely concerned” by developments over Sakdrisi archeological site, where gold and mining company, RMG, launched digging gold after receiving a go-ahead from the Ministry of Culture, causing outcry from preservationists, opposition parties and also drawing condemnation from the Georgian Orthodox Church.
The Georgian National Museum released a statement on Monday evening saying that Sakdrisi represents an “archeological site of international importance.”
The museum, whose researchers have been involved in study of the site for years, also said that there were attempts to misinterpret its role in the dispute. Some comments of Culture Ministry officials and executives from the mining company have been perceived as having national museum’s consent on the decision to proceed with mining activities at Sakdrisi and in exchange for the mining company to build a new museum in Bolnisi to house artifacts found at the site.
“The Georgian National Museum is extremely concerned over recent developments around Sakdrisi-Kachagiani. Activities and competences of the Georgian National Museum have been often misinterpreted recently, which damages the national museum’s scientific reputation, which in turn causes misleading of the public; therefore we want to reiterate once again our position that research, carried out by us together with the German side and other partners in full compliance of all the international standards, [demonstrates that] Sakdrisi represents an archeological site of international importance,” the Georgian National Museum said in the statement.
Archeologists from the Georgian National Museum have been studying the site together with colleagues from the German Mining Museum (Deutsches Bergbau-Museum Bochum) with the funding from Germany’s largest private science funder, Volkswagen Foundation, since 2004. Artifacts found there, researchers claim, show that the mine dates back to the early third millennium BC and some samples even point to the second half of the fourth millennium BC, making Sakdrisi one of world’s oldest known gold mines.
The site was granted a special status and became protected under the heritage laws in 2006, but in 2013 the Georgian Ministry of Culture revoked this status.
A screengrab from a video showing a bulldozer on Sakdrisi hillock on December 13, 2014 after gold and mining company, RMG, launched preparing ground for open-cast mine at the site.
The Georgian National Museum said that current “poor condition” of the archeological site was a result of that decision by the Ministry of Culture.
“This decision was made based on a conclusion compiled by an 11-member commission without participation of those Georgian and foreign scientists, who had been studying the site for almost ten years,” the Georgian National Museum said, adding that in 2013 this international team of scientists was actually “isolated” from the Sakdrisi site and a separate team of archeologists were granted access to the site for archeological research.
In March, 2014 the Culture Ministry gave go-ahead to RMG to launch open-cast mine at Sakdrisi, but the decision was challenged in court by Tbilisi-based legal advocacy Georgian Young Lawyer’s Association (GYLA) and as an interim measure, pending final verdict, court ordered in early June not to carry out any mining operations at Sakdrisi.
Yielding to demands from the campaigners and preservationists, the Ministry of Culture and RMG agreed in summer, 2014 to engage with the team of international archeologists, who have been originally carrying out the research.
As a result, the Georgian National Museum said, a plan for continuation of archeological examination of the site was prepared.
But on December 13 RMG announced about the launch of mining activities at Sakdrisi, carrying out couple of blasts and sending heavy equipment to the site. The Russian-owned company was able to launch the activities after the Ministry of Culture issued new permission on December 12.
This sudden twist caught campaigners by surprise. GYLA said that after December 12 decision of the Culture Ministry, which the public was not aware of, and by its rapid execution by the mining company campaigners were left without even the possibility to file a lawsuit against the ministry’s decision. Technically the case can still be taken to court, but in substance it will change nothing as mining activities are already underway and the site is already damaged, said head of GYLA Kakha Kozhoridze.
The Georgian National Museum, however, said that it is “ready to consider possibility of resumption of scientific research” of the site in case there are proper conditions on the ground.
Photo: Eana Korbezashvili/Civil.ge
Meanwhile a group of activists, who have been campaigning against open-cast mine at Sakdrisi, gathered outside the Ministry of Culture on Monday evening and held a protest rally, which they dubbed as “rolling stone from Sakdrisi” – campaigners brought stones at the ministry to symbolize that, as they put it, “criminal decisions” taken over Sakdrisi would haunt officials’ future careers.
“Blast of Sakdrisi-Kachagiani is not the end,” campaigners said in a statement. “A movement is being launched to achieve a fundamental change of country’s cultural policy and policy of environment protection.”