The largest single source of gold in history has been the Witwatersrand Basin of South Africa. This geologic formation is believed to be the result of an ancient meteorite and has produced over 1.5 billion troy ounces of gold since it was discovered in 1886. Witwatersrand accounts for roughly 50 percent of the gold ever mined.
The majority of the Witwatersrand Basin is underground, yet it holds the world’s largest gold reserves. Located in South Africa, most of the basin is hidden away deep inside the earth. But there are outcrops that are more reachable, such as the one in Gauteng that forms the Witwatersrand ridge. The southern part of the ridge, which is roughly 3 miles west of modern Johannesburg, South Africa was discovered on a farm. Later, people realized that the Centra Rand Gold Field actually continued for 31 miles.
The mines in the Witwatersrand Basin are some of the deepest in the world, tunneling miles below the surface. The deepest mine, Mponeng, tunnels 2.5 miles below the surface, and houses the world’s tallest elevator, which can go down more than 7,000 feet in three minutes, traveling up to 40 miles per hour. As the gold is extracted, the mines had to be dug deeper to keep the supply up. In certain places, it can take miners two hours to get from the surface to the depths of the mine, where they face extraordinarily dangerous conditions. Gold mining has been on the decline since the 1980’s, which has had a huge impact on the economic health of the region that has long glittered with gold. Today, there are just 120,000 remaining workers in the once immensely profitable gold industry in South Africa.