Gold was the first medal known to man, and it’s easy to see why these shiny nuggets impressed our early ancestors. Its brilliance, pliability, and scarcity continue to make it a powerful commodity throughout the world.
The history of gold mining dates back at least 7000 years, and some of the oldest gold artifacts can be found in the Vama Necropolis in Bulgaria. Gold was the primary source of currency in the Roman era, and it is thought that the Romans were the first to extract gold using hydraulic mining methods.
In our modern era, we’ve come a long way from the gold pans associated with the forty-niners who spent years crouching over streams during the California Gold Rush. Gold mining techniques today include commercial hard rock extraction and various methods of placer mining—which is the mining of gold or gemstones that have moved downstream from their source and are found in deposits of sand and gravel. Placer mining was the coveted method used by miners in gold rush eras, but more sophisticated techniques are used today.
Gold prospecting is the act—or the art—of searching for new gold deposits. Although prospecting is typically a commercial activity, small-scale recreational prospecting for placer gold can be found in operations in countries like South Africa, Canada and the United States. In developing nations like Ecuador, prospecting for placer gold is common with locals who are financially disadvantaged and have access to nearby rivers.
A gold prospector’s first question is “Where can I find gold?” and the iconic age old answer is “Gold is where it is,” which certainly doesn’t narrow down the prospects. With the gold price reaching record levels and anxious prospectors in hot pursuit, the best course of action is to research. And then research some more. The Internet is an obvious source, but don’t overlook libraries where you can discover where mining operations register leases.
Placer gold doesn’t move too far from its source (like quartz lodes or other hard rock sources), so most prospectors are looking for an established source. Geological events—like annual floods—release placer deposits and encourage erosion, so you might want to find a stream close to a hard rock source after spring flooding occurs.
Other good sources to find gold are gravel terraces in modern streams, ancient rivers, or sand beds at the mouth of streams or lakes. For amateurs, sand beds are cited as one of the best sources. And don’t overlook areas that you assume have already been “picked over.” Many prospectors moved on before completely exhausting an area. There still may be gold left to find. Such a discovery was made near Kingman, Arizona in 2010 when several mining claims were staked in area known for old its old mining ventures.
Mining for Gold In the Modern World