The mining of gold
From artisans to open-pit mining
Gold has been mined by mankind for thousands of years, at first crudely and today with increasing sophistication. During the early years of mining, extraction was crude and relied on nature occasionally revealing her golden secrets in rock slides, eroded mountain sides and river beds.
Gold extraction grew in sophistication over the years, with the Egyptians the first to efficiently mine gold. Next came the Romans who invented hydraulic mining techniques to allow gold extraction on a larger scale and satisfy their desire to invest in gold.
Later, 19th century prospectors deployed panning and sluicing in the gold rushes in North America, using gravity to separate heavier gold grains from other materials. During this era, the largest single gold nugget was found in Victoria, Australia in 1869. Named the Welcome Stranger, and weighing 78kgs, this gold investment would be worth around $4m in today’s money.
Fast forward to modern times, and gold mining has grown to an incredible level of sophistication. Today’s miners use cutting edge surveying and measurement tools to enable them to locate gold deep underground in the most remote parts of the world.
Today most gold comes from vast open pit or underground mines, and the key is to find enough grams of gold per tonne of rock or sand to make the mine viable. Open pit mines are giant holes in the ground used to access ‘placer’ gold deposits that collect due to erosion. Other mining is carried out in underground mines, the deepest of which are found in South Africa and reaching nearly 4km into the earth’s crust.
Gold mining remains a notoriously difficult business, with golden riches awaiting the successful few. 2012 UK census data found more miners calling the smart streets of south west London home, than any other part of the UK.