The Copperbelt of Congo was once the bastion of industrial development and no individual embodied its modernity as fully as the salaried industrial miner. Today, with the near collapse of the state-run mining company, Gécamines, and the liberalization of the mining industry starting in 2002, the majority of miners are no longer trained and salaried industrial workers but rather children and youth eking out a precarious living as artisanal miners or creuseurs. In Congo, artisanal mining is paradoxical, for, although it indexes a future of unskilled, untrained, flexible work in rural and peri-urban enclaves, its organization of labour and rudimentary techniques of copper extraction allude to and borrow from the colonial and precolonial past. Creuseurs mobilize the past as a strategic response to the threat of dispossession of ‘their’ land by the state and foreign investors, and they do so by laying claim to an anterior ‘sovereign’ – the ancestors – whose existence predates colonialism. This paradoxical emplacement of artisanal mining, its entanglement in time, invites interrogation of some of the ways in which scholars have understood precarity not only as a politically induced condition resulting from neoliberalism but also as an outcome of the enduring nature of the colonizing structure in Africa.