Ethiopia may be sitting on one of the largest untapped gold deposits left in the world, according to a new report from researchers at the University of Aberdeen.

Liam Bullock and Owen Morgan published their report last week, which was based on a combination of field observations and historical evaluation. From their time in West Ethiopia they found strong evidence for the presence of gold and graphite – the latter of which is used in touch-screen devices and lithium-ion batteries.

Interest in this area comes from its historical significance, with many historians believing this zone to be the likely home of the world’s oldest gold mine, and the source from which the Queen of Sheba gained most of her gold wealth.

The area is heavy in quartz veins, schist, and pegmatite rocks, which are all promising locations for gold deposits. Similar terrain in Papua New Guinea and Indonesia has already been found to be rich in the yellow metal.

Asosa, West EthiopiaPicture: Google Earth. A map of the Asosa Zone (highlighted in yellow) by the Sudan border to the west of Asosa, Ethiopia.

The Asosa Zone is west of the town of Asosa, near Ethiopia’s western borders with Sudan and South Sudan. By the border it is flatland but moving east towards Asosa the terrain becomes more rugged, with valleys, mountainous ridges, streams and rivers. When the grassland ends it is replaced with a mix of dense bamboo, incense trees, and the leftovers of tropical rainforest – some clue as to why this region has gone untapped for so many years.

Locals already prospect in the rivers through the Asosa flatlands, and Ethiopia has several mining companies operating to the north and east of this area. ASCOM, an Egyptian mining company, made a significant gold discovery back in 2016 in Asosa and reported an almost identical estimate in gold deposits – 48 tonnes predicted – as the research duo from the University of Aberdeen.

The new research paper could be the catalyst for investment in mining in this area of Ethiopia, but it will be hard work if companies want to profit from it. Between government red tape, dangerous wildlife, and treacherous terrain in the wet seasons, Asosa is very much a high risk, high reward opportunity. The question is: will anyone take the risk and go for gold?