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How to Pan for Gold

March 6, 2012 by  
Filed under Gold Mining

Panning for gold is still the simplest, easiest, and cheapest way to extract gold, even though it is the oldest form of mining. Panning for gold simply takes a pan and a stream bed with gravel or sediment that’s known to be located over a placer deposit.

Panning for gold is a form of placer mining in which gold is extracted from a placer deposit. A placer is an accumulation of valuable minerals, somewhat like a vein, but when panning for gold a placer that’s not solid is used. Panned gold is extracted from an alluvium placer deposit, which is a placer that has formed in river, creek, or stream sediments, collecting in protected places where the water doesn’t flow as fast, such as bends, eddies, breaks, waterfalls, and natural barriers along the shore.

Panning for gold is the oldest form of mining, and was the main source of extraction during the U.S. gold rushes. It is not effective for large-scale extraction operations today, but is still in practice. In old western mining towns with operational mines and pan sites, panning for gold is a novelty for tourists, families, and amateur geologists, as well as a profitable activity for mining entrepreneurs and professional geologists.

Gold placers are usually found in the mountains, and panning is an effective way to extract gold from streams and mountainside runoff. Gravel from the placer deposit is scooped into the pan with some water, and the gold sinks to the bottom as the pan is agitated, much like a washing machine. Denser materials like gold and gemstones will separate from the lighter materials in the gravel and remain in the pan, while the lighter, more porous gravel and sediment will float to the top and fall out of the pan with the water.

There are different kinds of gold pans you can use, including specially designed pans and heavy gauge steel or even copper pans. Sometimes screens, square pans, and other accessories are used. Some panners use a technique in which they lower the pan back into the stream as the gravel and sediment separate and float to the top, just long enough for the light current to sweep the unwanted sediment away while the gold rests in the bottom of the pan.

How to Locate a Placer Deposit

You can try your luck at panning for gold, gemstones, and other metals in areas that may contain placer deposits. Types of placer deposits include:

  • Alluvium – placer deposits that form in river and stream sediments, found along the banks anywhere that sediment can be trapped.
  • Eluvium – a type of placer deposit formed by settling and weathering, also located in stream beds.
  • Bench placer – placer deposits that form on the bank or beach of a large body of water or river.
  • Paleoplacers – placer deposits in which the deposit is a solid rock. Only gold and uranium are mined this way. Paleoplacer literally means “old placer.”

In the United States, gold was found out west. Head into the mountains or mountain valleys to find a cool mountain stream. Chances are you can find beds of sediment with tiny flakes of gold among the sand and gravel. Mountain towns with access to public lands will have local hot spots for gold panning that you may be able to locate through websites, blogs, or conversations at the local coffee shop.

Finding large deposits of gold through panning on public lands can be difficult, however, because most valuable placers have already been located and the lands they’re on have been purchased by mining companies. Some commercial operations around the west have gold and other gemstone panning available at regulated sites for a small fee, if you want to try your luck at striking it rich.

Placers are formed by heavier materials sinking during the sedimentary phases of rock formation, separating due to gravity. Placers are often characterized by black sand that contains a shiny mix of magnetite high in iron oxides. Look for these characteristics in the river canyon when trying to locate an unknown placer in a mountain streambed.

Even if you don’t find gold while panning, you may find crystals, gemstones, or other metals. In addition to gold, platinum, tin, diamonds, thorium, titanium, and uranium are all mined from placers.

Even if you don’t walk away with much, these small nature-made treasures make great souvenirs to remember your adventure by.

Exploring the Symbolism of Gold

March 2, 2012 by  
Filed under About Gold

For as long as time has been recorded, gold has been associated with the highest values of influential societies and cultures, symbolizing important traits and objects such as wealth, power, treasure, justice, balance, and the sun. In ancient stories and folk tales throughout history worldwide, gold has always been an important part of the hierarchical, artistic, and monetary aspects of powerful societies.

Gold has been coveted in many societies throughout history, but not all. The Native Americans of North America found gold useless and therefore priceless, while its affluence in Central and South America was largely responsible for sending European explorers to the New World. The nobility of Medieval Europe used gold flakes in their food and beverages as a decoration and a way for the host to express wealth. Their kings were inducted under a crown of gold to show that the eternal light of heaven shown upon their heads.

Gold has been known to man since the Copper Age, or Chalcolithic Period, which dates back 7,000 years. Artifacts containing gold dated from 4000 B.C. and 2000 B.C. have been recovered from the Balkans and Europe, respectively. Ancient Egypt is another place that gold was used starting around 2600 B.C., and was a society in which gold was extremely prevalent. It also became very abundant in Africa’s Mali Empire around A.D. 1300, and the empire’s ruler gave away so much gold that it destroyed its value in Egypt.

Gold symbolism appears in ancient Greek mythology in legends such as that of Jason and the golden fleece, which was highly coveted, and King Midas and his golden touch, which was at first both a blessing and curse, but ultimately his demise. Gold has rich symbolism in Christianity, being associated with both the sacred and the corrupt. Gold is referenced throughout the Bible and is often used to distinguish between the sinister rich and suffering poor, one of many forms of symbolism commonly applied to gold.

Common Symbols of Gold

Wealth: Gold is most commonly associated with money, wealth, riches, affluence, and high society. Throughout history, the rulers and royalty of civilizations have traditionally used gold as a symbol of their power in ways that permeated every aspect of their lives. Today, gold is owned by both the rich and poor, but it is commonly associated with the rich as a luxury and with the poor as something that’s inherited as an heirloom or pawned in times of need.

Even though there was so much gold in the old world that ancient Egyptian and African societies buried their Kings in gold suits and gave gold away to peasants, it’s estimated that 75% of the world’s gold has been extracted in the last century. Gold has always been considered the most coveted of the precious metals, even though platinum is valued much higher.

Money: Gold’s value is used as the standard for many currencies and has been the material used to make many currencies in the past. Gold bars and coins are still used in investment and held as a protective measure against inflation.

The Sun: A chief mission of alchemists was to make gold out of other, less valued substances. Alchemy’s symbol for gold is a circle with a dot in the center, which was the alchemists’ astrological symbol for the sun and the Chinese symbol for the sun.

In Ancient Egypt, Central America, and South America, gold was often directly associated with the sun, as they were similar in both color and importance. Temples, shrines, and graves in these cultures were always made of and filled with gold and gold was offered up to the sun gods above all others.

Treasure: From pirates at sea to leprechauns in Ireland, someone has always been searching for that elusive hidden treasure of gold.

Balance: The weight of gold has been considered an accurate and universal measurement that has transgressed time and cultures. A bar of gold on a scale is still commonly used today in the United States to depict fairness, balance, and justice.

Achievement: Gold medals, trophies, and other rewards are both ancient and modern symbols of and awards for achievement.

Perfection: The golden mean, golden ratio, and golden rule all refer to valued elements existing in perfection.

Age: Gold is associated with the positive aspects of age, such as in the golden fiftieth wedding anniversary, the golden years, and the golden age of a civilization.