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Mongolia’s ‘Sutton Hoo’ threatened by Canadian mine

The plan to strip-mine the beautiful northern Noyon mountains, where some 20 graves of senior Asian Hun (also called by the Chinese name ‘Xiongnu’), dating from the Third Century B.C., are to be found, would mean the country would lose an iconic burial, similar to England’s Sutton Hoo as well as a protected area of natural beauty and key habitiat,of snow leopards and other unique wildlife according to an Avaaz release.

A tomb of one of the Hunnic leaders from Noyon Uul-Noin Ula

A tomb of one of the Hunnic leaders from Noyon Uul-Noin Ula
Borbála Obrusánszky

(The famous Sutton Hoo ship burials where leaders of the Anglo-Saxon royalty were buried is in East Anglia, England). It is clearly unimaginable that mining would be allowed at such a key site, or for that matter, that Egypt would allow the pyramids to be bulldozed.

The Gatsuurt Mine would, it is reported, destroy these tombs which caused such a sensation when they were discovered in the 1920s.

A wall hanging from the Noyon Uul-Noin Ula burials.

A wall hanging from the Noyon Uul-Noin Ula burials.
Borbála Obrusánszky

As water had seeped into some of them clothing, carpets, as well as other materials which are usually destroyed by the passage of time could be salvaged, as describes (see photos on the site).

The people in question were the Asian Huns, known by many names by Chinese chroniclers, including „”Hun-Yu”, „”Xianrun” and „Xiongnu”, the last of which is most widespread. Encyclopaedia Iranica describes the Huns here.

So, just as it would be unthinkable that Sweden or Norway would allow Viking grave sites (and those of kings) to be dug up, in the case of Mongolia, it is not that clear. The South China Morning Post wrote positively about the likelihood of the country opening up more mining opportunities and mentioned the Gatsuurt proposal, describing it like this:

Canadian mining company Centerra Gold said in January that it was “quite optimistic” it would be able to get back to work soon on its Gatsuurt exploration project in Mongolia, which has been suspended since 2010. Gatsuurt has been included on a list of mineral deposits of “strategic importance” for the Mongolian government to consider. Centerra is hopeful that parliament will approve the list this year, opening the door for it to resume exploration on the property.
The proposal is to create an open-pit mine in the pristine forest by the Canadian gold-mining corporation, Centerra. This move has in the past been cited by Mining Watch Canada, but apparently, to little effect. A list of letters written by Mining Watch can be seen here.

The impact on the country’s riverine systems will clearly be massive, as the Gatsuurt River is a tributary of the great Selenga River, considered sacred by many Mongolians, which also flows into Russia and environmental degradation of the river could be disastrous, as Eugene Simonov, Coordinator of Rivers Without Boundaries International Coalition warns.

A view of the Selenga River.

A view of the Selenga River.

Mongolia is not the only place Centerra appear to be in trouble over environmental concerns. In Kyrgyzstan, the mine operates the only open-pit mine on a glacier, which could threaten that nation’s water reserves, according to Al Jazeera.

The case is pretty straightforward. Here is a developing country with financial problems, which could bow to pressure from rich corporations wanting to make a fast buck. If Mongolia does bow to the financial lure of gold, it will be selling out a key part of its heritage. If it resists, how can it build its economy?

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