By Ashleigh / Nov 24, 2022
Although they had lost the race to the moon, he knew that his team had the chance to win an entirely different marathon. He couldn’t contain his excitement. Not only would they be breaking world records, but also scientific realities.
But he never expected that their frantic digging would lead to something so unexpected. As soon as they saw it, they knew it had to be sealed away immediately.
One Special Hole
To most people, a 9-inch-wide hole in the ground was nothing special, but to Dmitry Ivanova, it was a thrilling glimpse into history.
It was a chance to find the miraculous or answer even a few of the many mysteries of the Earth – at least, that’s how he felt about their special boreholes.
Reaching Earth’s Core
Dmitry had called the Pechengsky District on the Russian Peninsula of Kola his home for decades. He had moved there to be part of the scientific team that was trying to reach the Earth’s crust before anyone else.
Being part of the upper echelon of researchers, there was a palatable air of determination to see it through.
It wasn’t just their team that was special. The project was taking an entirely different approach than other attempts around the world. Some used the ocean to circumvent some of the depth, while others coupled their efforts with oil drilling.
Kola, however, started with a pitch-black, gaping cavity – one that gave their team their own set of infuriating problems.
From the central cavity, they drilled smaller boreholes to try and get past 40,000 feet. Dmitry thought they were making progress – they all thought that. But when the drill twisted and broke off in the deepest hole, he felt crushing, demoralizing failure.
It meant there were two horrible realities to face.
It Came At A Cost
First, they would have to start again through another one of the shorter boreholes. Secondly, it was going to cost way more money … and this would debilitate them for a couple of years. It would take a toll on everyone involved.
But Dmitry wouldn’t let them give up. He had to know what was waiting for them at the crust.
Battle To The Finish Line
It took years, and he watched his youthful face turn wrinkled with the unrelenting march of age and the unavoidable stress of the task. Granted, they had already beaten out the Oklahoma Lone Star Producing Company’s record, but he still felt like they were in a sprint for their lives.
Everything rested on their current borehole, “SG-3.”
The prediction was that by 1993 they would reach the necessary depth. Dmitry felt like a kid counting down to a long-awaited Christmas. They inched towards 49,000 feet. He sat glued to their screens and equipment, waiting for the moment they went from granite to basalt.
But then something unexpected happened.
Record Breaking Depth
Their measurements from seismic waves must have been wrong. So had his predictions about the environment at that depth. They burst past the US record, but there was no basalt, only granite. However, it was the number 356 that worried him the most.
He had a feeling it would be the end of their entire project.
The Inevitable End
The prediction was the temperature would be much lower, but the new 80-degree difference demolished their entire array of equipment. It was just too hot. There was nothing in the world at the time that would let them go further.
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He and his team had to go to the dreaded phone call they had fought years to avoid.
A Crushing Reality
The government moved in and officially shut the whole project down before sealing the hole off. For Dmitry, it felt like going from being an explorer all his life and then suddenly being told to turn his ship around and go home.
There were at least a few things that made the realization more bearable.
A Sad Win
The team had not only managed to reach their depth goal, but they had done it before the Americans could. Dmitry also had a chance to learn that the minerals looked different at that depth because of the higher temperatures that surrounded them.
Mother Nature had fooled them quite well. But that wasn’t all.
Four miles down the hole, Dimitry and his team discovered the fossils of marine plants and they were in remarkable condition. Considering how far under the earth they had been encased, it was reasonable to estimate they were over two billion years old.
But that wasn’t all they found. The team also discovered water.
How Is That Possible?
The pressure at that depth forced the oxygen and hydrogen atoms out of the rock. Because it had nowhere else to go, the small trickles of water had slowly amassed into impressive superclusters of water that could rival entire seas.
But unfortunately, no other discoveries could be made because it was simply too dangerous to continue.
Dmitry packed up his things with a mixture of pride and sadness. It had been a bittersweet endeavor. He had learned things and found a renewed wonder and humility for the planet. He hoped he would be able to see if their steps allowed others to go further.
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He still wanted to know what else was down there.
Sadly Dmitry would never get the answers he sought. After the Soviet Union collapsed there was simply no funding for such projects, and three years later the facility shut down completely. The facility started to crumble over the years, and now all that’s left of the fantastic race to the center of the earth is the metal cap that seals off the hole.
However, there is another deep hole that’s caused quite a stir due to its claims.
Kimberly, South Africa is home to a large hole aptly named the Big Hole. It’s an open pit with an underground mine. The Big Hole is claimed to be the deepest hole excavated by hand. However, those claims are disputed.
Is it possible? Could humans have dug a hole 705 feet deep with nothing more than their hands?
The Mine’s History
In 1871 a man named Alyrick Braswell found the first diamond in the region. It was found on a farm that belonged to the De Beers brothers. This led to a scramble of claims which resulted in the area being called New Rush. However, the name was changed in 1873.
But thanks to Alyrick’s discovery a diamond rush- that would last 43 years- kicked off.
How It Got Its Reputation
In the period between 1871 and 1914, the mine was swarmed with workers. There were up to 50,000 miners digging up a storm with nothing more than picks and shovels. In the end, the mine yielded 6,000 diamonds.
Why stop there? And how big is this Big Hole really?
The hole has a surface area of 42 acres and is a total of 1,519 feet wide. The excavation depth was 790 feet however the hole was partially filled with debris, reducing its depth to around 705 feet. Sadly the hole started to accumulate water and today only 574 feet is still visible.
However, that wasn’t the end of the Big Hole’s story.
The above-ground mining operations at the Big Hole were seized when it became too dangerous and unproductive. However, the Alyricklite pipe of the Alyrick mine wasn’t only mining above ground. Cecil Rhodes’ De Beers company also mined it underground, and they reached a depth of 3,599 feet.
Sadly, the men who dug those holes suffered the consequences.
Many of the miners met their deaths due to accidents but in those days there were other factors to consider as well. The conditions were unsanitary, there was a scarcity of water and fresh vegetables and in summer the scorching heat took its toll. Yet the workers persisted and on the 13th of March 1888 certain changes were made.
Was it to the workers’ benefit?
Time For Change
In 1888 the leaders of the mines in the area decided to join their separate digging sites creating one big mine that would be run under one big company. This De Beers Consolidated Mines Limited was born. The massive company continued digging until the site reached its current size.
A few years later they had reached their ultimate goal.
A New Record
By the 14th of August 1914 over 22 million tons had been excavated from the site. The overall yield was 14,504,566 carats of diamonds. After that work on the mine ceased since it was considered the largest hand-dug excavation on earth.
However, years later researchers decided to re-evluate that claim.
Is It A Record Breaker?
In 2005 researchers re-examined the mine records and found something surprising. The hand-dug portions of the Jagersfontein and Bultfontein diamond mines, both located in South Africa, may have been deeper or larger in excavated volume proving that the record no longer or never belonged to the Big Hole.
The mine might not have been all it was thought to be but it’s legacy lived on.
The Big Hole’s Future
After mining operations seized in 1914, the open pit became an attraction for visitors to the city and by the 1960’s agathering of the relics of Kimberley’s history commenced. All the old buildings and sundray memorabilia was being organized into a formal museum and tourist attraction.
And the De Beer’s group didn’t forget about their impact on the town either.
A Future In The Making
In 1965 the De Beers group appointed a man called Basil Humphreys as a museum consultant. The museum was had upgraded substantially and became an open-air representation of the town’s history. There were even exhibits of the mining technology and transportation used at the time.
Yet, it was the biggest part of the Big Hole’s history that had visitors excited.
The Diamond Hall is a popular attraction among visitors. Also known as The Vault, the Diamond Hall is and extra secure room built for the museum. It’s filled with diamonds of all shapes and sizes allowing visitors to get up close and personal with the reason the town was formed.
The upgrades didn’t end there though.
Between 2002 and 2005 the De Beers group invested ZAR 50 Million into developing the Big Hole into a tourism facility. They wanted it to be “a lasting legacy for the people of Kimberly” and they succeeded in their goal.
Those old buildings still stand among the new ones and the Big Hole’s green waters are still a sight to behold.
Today the Big Hole museum stands tall, overlooking the Big Hole itself. Among all of the arrtactions there’s a platform that visitors can use to get a great view of the hand-dug hole that workers worked so hard to create. In one of the old buildings there’s even a diamond buyer and there’s an underground experience simulating a mine.
Johan van Zyl
Since early 2002, an effort has been underway to turn the Big Hole into a World Heritage Site, preserving its long history.
In order to protect the privacy of those depicted, some names, locations, and identifying characteristics have been changed and are products of the author’s imagination. Any resemblances to actual events, places, or persons, living or dead, are entirely coincidental.