Artisanal prospectors in Myanmar ply a grueling trade that experts say may vanish in a generation as the world’s gold strikes shrink.
HTAW THAR, MYNAMAR – Walking across the world, you encounter human beings engaged in various repetitive behaviors. Raising babies. Fixing machines. Boiling tea. Planting crops. Posting videos on TikTok. Looking for gold.
Our species’ pervasive quest for gold is ancient and tireless. Along my 11,000-mile trail out of Africa, I have met modern-day miners blasting apart a Bronze Age gold mine—a rare, 5,400-year-old archaeological site—to squeeze the last dregs of metal from the hills of the Caucasus nation of Georgia.
I have stumbled across a tribe of nomadic prospectors sifting glimmers of placer from the wild mountains of Pakistan. And lately, in Myanmar, I met a middle-aged couple, Than Ngwe and Do Toe, washing tons of river gravel by hand in the hunt for specks of shining color. (Watch artisanal gold miners at work in Myanmar.)
“I’m a fisherman most of the time,” Than Ngwe, the husband, said. “This is just for earning more for food.” “We are poor. We have six children,” added Do Toe, the wife. “The gold trader sometimes gives us an advance in rice, when we run out of money.”
Their reward for a typical day of backbreaking labor along the muggy banks of the Chindwin River? A few grains of metal worth perhaps 5,000 kyats, or about three dollars.
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