top of page

Accursed Thirst for Gold

"Accursed thirst for gold! What have you not compelled mortals to do?"

Golden Rule, and the Gold Standard, to name only a few metaphors. Also, we have such commonplace sayings as a heart of gold, good as gold, and so on. Perhaps the two best-known proverbs involving gold are "All that glistens are not gold" and "Gold is where you find it."

The Egyptians used the perfect of planar geometric figures, the circle, as the symbol for gold, the most perfect and noblest of the metals. The alchemists associated gold with the sun (Sol) or with the Greek sun-god (Apollo) and represented it by the symbol of perfection, the circle with a dot at the center, or by the circle with a crown of rays to represent the king or Apollo of metals.

To the early Hindu philosopher’s gold was the "mineral light"; to the early Western philosophers the metal was the image of solar light and hence of the divine intelligence of the universe.

The desire for gold has markedly influenced history: the cry "gold" has lured men across oceans and continents, over the highest mountain ranges, into Arctic tundra and scorching deserts, and through nearly impenetrable jungles. Its gleam prompted the expeditions and conquests of Jason of Thessaly, Cyrus, and Darius of Persia, Alexander of Macedon, Caesar of Rome, Columbus of Genoa, Vasco da Gama and Amerigo Vespucci of Portugal, Cortez, and Pizarro of Spain, Raleigh of England, and many others throughout history. Gold has carried the torch of civilization to the remotest regions of the world; unfortunately, the auri sacra fames* has also wrought terrible acts of slavery, war, and bitter contention upon mankind. So, it is also with most other materials of this earth.

To make gold from baser metals was a major preoccupation of the alchemists (as were also their ceaseless efforts to discover the elixir of life and the fountain of youth). The fruits of their labor gave us the rudiments of modern chemistry.

Gold has a widespread occurrence in practically every country of the world and has influenced the exploration and settlement of most. In Africa, Europe, and Asia ancient gold mines are known in Egypt, Spain, France, Great Britain, Yugoslavia, Romania, Greece, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Iran, India, China, Japan, and the U.S.S.R. Ancient placers have yielded gold from the rivers Tagus, Guadalquivir, Tiber, Po, Rhone, Rhine, Hebrus (Maritsa), Nile, Zambezi, Niger, Senegal, Pactolus (in ancient Lydia), Oxus (Amu Darya that flows through the golden land of Samarkand), Indus, Ganges, Lena, Aldan, Amur, Yangtze, and a multitude of others.

The artisans of the earliest civilizations of Anatolia (Catal Hijyilk), Mesopotamia (Sumer), and the Indus Valley (Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro) worked in gold obtained from many sites in the Caucasus and Middle Asia, the Middle East, and the Indian Peninsula. The Egyptians mined gold extensively in eastern Egypt and Sudan (Nubia) as far back as 4,000 years ago. It was from them that the Persians, Greeks, and Romans, in turn, learned the techniques of gold prospecting, mining, and metallurgy.

The Greeks and Romans mined gold ores from the extensive metalliferous regions of their empires. Pliny the Elder (A.D. 23-79) in his Historia naturalist written in the early years of our era, repeatedly mentions the mining and metallurgy of gold, and during the Renaissance Agricola referred to it, as had many others before him during the Middle Ages.

Compared with the gold placers and mines of the Old World, those in parts of the New may be as ancient, although the aborigines of North and South America placed little emphasis on gold beyond its use in ornaments, jewelry, sacrificial knives, and the like. Columbus of Genoa found the natives of Hispaniola (Haiti) in possession of gold nuggets in 1492, a fact that excited the Spaniards to later pursue their conquests of Mexico and South America, where in 1550 they found their Eldorado in the fabulous placer deposits of Colombia. 

In Brazil, the Portuguese sought gold during the last half of the sixteenth century, but the deposits found were small and mined only sporadically during the seventeenth century. In 1693 economic deposits of gold were discovered in Minas Geraes, and for a century thereafter this state was one of the world's major sources of the precious metal. One of these deposits, the famous Morro Velho, has been mined by underground workings for almost a century and a half and is still productive.

Although silver has been the most important precious metal of Mexico, gold has also been won from many of the silver-gold deposits, mostly of Tertiary age. The bedrock deposits of the great silver-gold vein system of the Veta Madre at Guanajuato were found in 1550 and exploited almost immediately thereafter. El Oro, one of the premier gold districts but now largely exhausted, was discovered in 1521, developed extensively by 1530, and mined intermittently for nearly 400 years thereafter, producing more than 5 million oz. of gold.

Since the beginning of the nineteenth century prospecting for gold has ranged widely over Canada and the United States, resulting in many gold rushes, first to California in 1848, then to British Columbia in 1857, and later to Nome in Alaska in 1899.

After the exhaustion or near-exhaustion of many of the placers, attention turned to bedrock deposits during the last half of the nineteenth century and the first half of the present century. The Mother Lode and Grass Valley in California and the famous Comstock Lode in Nevada were discovered and developed in the 1850s. The gold telluride deposits of Cripple Creek in Colorado were in 1892, and by 1905 the Tonopah and Goldfield districts in Nevada were under development. The Homestake mine, at Lead, South Dakota, was found in 1876 and brought into production soon thereafter.

In eastern Canada lode gold was first worked in Nova Scotia in the late 1850s, followed in 1866 by the first discovery of lode gold in the Canadian Shield near Madoc, Hastings County, Ontario. After the discovery of the native silver deposits at Cobalt, Ontario, in 1903, prospectors ranged widely over the Precambrian areas of Ontario, Quebec, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Northwest Territories. In Ontario and Quebec, Abitibi and Larder Lake were discovered in 1906; Porcupine, 1909; Swastika, 1910; Kirkland Lake, 1911; Matachewan, 1916; Rouyn (Noranda), 1924; and Red Lake, 1925.

In Manitoba, the Rice Lake district was discovered in 1911, and in Northwest Territories, the deposits in the sediments of the Yellowknife area were discovered in 1933 and in the greenstones in 1935. The recent discoveries in the Canadian Shield are the large auriferous ore bodies in the Hemlo area, northwestern Ontario, originally indicated in 1869 and developed in the early 1980s.

In western Canada, the bedrock gold deposits in British Columbia first attracted attention in 1863 during the first great placer gold rushes to the province. Little work was done, however, on most of the discoveries and many were forgotten. The area in the vicinity of the Cariboo Gold Quartz and Island Mountain mines in the Barkerville district prospected in 1860, and some mining was done in 1876 and a few years thereafter at these mine sites; large-scale mining, however, did not commence until 1933 and 1934 respectively at the two mines. In 1897 the Cadwallader gold belt in the Bridge River district, containing the Bralorne and Pioneer deposits, was prospected, but it was not until 1928 that the Pioneer mine was brought into production, followed in 1932 by the Bratorne mine.

The discovery of payable placer gold in Australasia was made first in 1851 near Bathurst, New South Wales, Australia, by Edward Hammond Hargraves. There followed then the discoveries of large eluvial placer and bedrock gold deposits in Australia at Bendigo and Ballarat (1851), Gympie (1867), Charters Towers (1870), Beaconsfield in Tasmania (1876), Mount Morgan (1886), Kimberley (1886), Coolgardie (1892), Kalgoorlie (1893), and Tennant Creek (1932). In Papua New Guinea the rich gold placers of the Morobe field were discovered by the Spaniards in 1528 but brought into extensive production only in 1926.

Rossland in West Kootenay District was in 1889 and brought into production in 1890, the Premier mine in Stewart District in 1918, and the Zeballos gold belt on the west coast of Vancouver Island was discovered and developed in 1934.

By Corby Schmalz - Senior Geophysicist with more than 20 years of experience in geophysical projects.


Recent Posts

See All



bottom of page