Archeology could be final nail in Rosia Montana coffin

Archeologists could be final nail in Rosia Montana coffinDespite suffering a major setback for its flagship project last month, Gabriel Resources (TSX: GBU) hasn’t given up on its massive gold mine in Rosia Montana, Romania.

A Romanian parliamentary committee rejection of the gold and silver project in November has put the project back several more months, upping costs further with Gabriel now saying to build the gold mine it will need $1.5 billion.

The Canadian miner has already spent more than $500m on the project in a region of Transylvania where mining dates back to the first century, since it first acquired the concession in the late 1990s amid fierce opposition from environmental groups.

Rosia montana open pit

Existing open pit at Rosia Montana mined by Romanian state-owned company during Soviet times

While protests and marches organized by environmental activists across Europe has definitely galvanized opposition to the project – which will be Europe's largest if it goes ahead – the proposed Rosia Montana mine may in the end be torpedoed by archeologists.

A British report commissioned by Romania's ministry of culture and funded by a not-for-profit organisation, Pro Patrimonio, which was kept under wraps for three years by the Bucharest government, has now been made public.

According to the The Independent the report deems Rosia Montana worthy of consideration as a Unesco world heritage site and that its galleries are "the most extensive and most important underground Roman gold mine known anywhere":

In 2010, the town's mayor, Eugen Furdui, admitted: "If Rosia Montana were added to the Unesco world heritage list, that would automatically mean that mining [could not] go through. And we want this mining project to be carried on."

The report's authors – Andrew Wilson and David Mattingly, professors of Roman archaeology at Oxford University and Leicester University respectively, and Mike Dawson, director of archaeology at the environmental consultancy firm CgMs – travelled to the site and were impressed by what they found.

"The key thing we were asked to do was to evaluate the site and see if it was a worthy consideration to be a Unesco world heritage site," Professor Dawson said. "Our opinion is that it has a very high status."

The villages around Rosia Montana have seen better days

The report promoting Rosia Montana as a World Heritage site also has its critics.

British archaeologist David Jennings, director of the York Archaeological Trust and a former director of Oxford Archaeology, an institution involved in the research program of the Rosia Montana heritage as early as since 2008 found three main flaws in the arguments set out by the Oxford professors and CgMs:

“An exaggeration of the importance of the site; The lack of appreciation of the precarious state of preservation and precarious integrity of many heritage-related objectives due to intense exploitation, especially over the last 250 years, which had a huge impact on the earlier phases of the heritage and left behind a largely non-rehabilitated and massive polluted environment; The lack of a professional opinion on the amount of the costs entailed by a full conservation program (estimated at around 200-300 million dollars).”

Gabriel, which owns 80% of the project with Romania holding the remainder, construction plans include rehabilitation of Romania's state owned company's excavations on the site.

The Toronto-based company has set aside $160 million in environmental guarantees and $35 million for what it calls “rescue archaeology” at the site where Roman galleries can still be seen.

Rosia Montana is one of the richest deposits in Europe estimated to hold 314 tonnes of gold and 1,500 tonnes of silver.

If the project does not go ahead, TSX-listed Gabriel which has lost more than 60% of its market value this year, has threatened to sue the Romanian government, believing it has a "very robust case" for up to $4 billion in damage claims.

Click here for the full report and so-called "statement of significance" on Rosia Montana.

Roman soldier statuettes on a gilt mantle clock in the Royal Palace Amsterdam by Bob West