The first beauty parlor is over 40 000 years old! Long before the days of Cleopatra and Helen of Troy, in the heart of Africa, cosmetics were being mined to beautify men and woman - who even than recognised that nature needs a little help.
The birth of beauty began at Bomvu ridge, in the Ngwenya mountains of the Kingdom of Swaziland. Here on a mountain of iron ore between the Ngwenya border post and the capital Mbabane, the first evidence of prehistoric activity was recorded in 1947.
Subsequently some 20 years later, with great excitment, it was discovered that at least 100,000 tons of ore had been removed prior to commencement of modern opencast operations by the Swaziland Iron Ore development Company.
A find such as this belonged to the world - so reasoned the big-hearted company. And a public - spirited decision resulted in the interest of Professor Raymond Dart of the University of the Witwatersrand (South Africa)and the institude for the Realisation of Human Potential(Philadaphia USA)
Professor Dart wanted fullscale fieldwork and research. He recommended that Peter Beaumont dig into the dark secrets of history. It took him close on two years to do just this.
Beaumont moved to Bomvo Ridge with a team of thirsty geologists - at least it is presumed that they were thirsty as they named the ridge's peaks Lion and Castle after two popular brands of beer - and began excavating near the entrance to a small cave on the scrape of Castle Hill.
After month of toil and sweat in the hot Swaziland sun and in the dark, close caves, they were rewarded with a very important discovery. Stone mining tools which Carbon 14 Decay dated at around 400 AD, together with rusted fragments of iron, indubitably establishing that the Iron Age was considerable earlier than had been thought.
More surprising news was to emerge - below Lion Beacon an adit was discovered extending about 50 feet into the hillside 25 feet wide at its widest and narrowing to a point. The question was : why should an adit have been made into what appeared to be homogeneous material - haematite??
The elusive answer came out of the blue. Mr C.A. Dribam, the pit superintendent, was examining the walls of the adit one day in the flickering light of his lamp. According to Adrian Boshier, a colleague of Beaumont, Mr Dribam remarked that all he could see was specularite.
Specularite !! The missing key. For specularite is a shiny form of iron ore, warm and greasy to the touch. For centuries it has been sought after as a cosmetic.
As fast as possible trenches were dug at Lions Cavern. The first dig produced a date of 7690 BC. This shifted back to 20 000 BC and finally came to rest at 40,000 BC. These dates are eons before man had officially discovered the metallurgical techniques necessary to utilize the ore for making iron.
Conclusively the miners were pigment or cosmetic miners. And this has been supported from many sources. Among man's earliest funerary practices was the sprinkling of red ochre on the corpse prior to burial. Digs in Europe , the Middle east and the southern Cape show that this was a standard practice.
The symbolysim of ochre in burial is obvious , blood. The very source of life, and although early man did not understand the significance of blood, he did know that when it spilled life ceased.
And so blood became the sacrificial gesture. The warriors of old painted their naked bodies with the blood from a successfull kill - to prove their manhood and their prowess. And what of the maidens sacrificed in blood? Sacrifices are older than history. And when blood was not available, what more obvious than the substitution of red ochre to bedaub oneself? (the blood of the earth)
At some stage it became the main pigment for rock paintins. And so we have the reason for mining haematite or red ochre. But what about specularite?
The beautiful tales from Bleek and Lloyd's Bushmen Folklore give us a clear picture of what the Bushmen did with specularite in ancient times. They rubbed it into their hair to make themselves look more attractive!
According to them the Bushmen visited a mine to obtain both haematite and specularite. They described the mine dwellers as sorcerers who had to be scared away by a bit of strong-armed stone throwing before they would let them have the ore in their skin bags.
Specularite is sparkling and has been described as making "our heads shimmer" and this has been verified by a Bushmen artist. On the mountain Ikanti near Sani Pass in Natal (South Africa) he has painted a figures with the "shimmering head" stylised in a series of strokes around the head.
Further proof came during an excursion in 1954 of the South African Archeological Society to a rock engraving site near Kimberly. A partially exposed human skeleton was discovered buried in a contracted position.
With it was an inverted half of an ostrich eggshell coated with red ocher and containing a film of specularite. (Very possibly mined in Swaziland) Possibly the remains of an early beauty parlor - not very glamorous but certainly the forerunner of the chrome and gilt emporiums of today.
Cosmetics have played a prime role right through the ages and Swaziland was obviously a major source of supply when mankind was still young.
Today what is left of Lions Cavern lies in the Malolotja Nature reserve unfortunately the most impressive part of the ancient mine has been destroyed by the modern day Iron ore mining opperations. However parts of the ancient mine can still be seen at the top of the Ngwenya Mountains, they overlook the giant crater left by the modern mining excavations.
Source: Bert Woodhouse African adventure November 1982, by: Swaziweb