Look for What the Oldtimers Missed (Part 1)
The Oldtimers Labored Under Fundamental Deficiencies
It's no mystery that the old time gold miners were very good at what they did and respect and appreciation for their efforts in helping to open the great American West, the Australian Outback, British Columbia and the Yukon, and hundreds of other gold mining areas throughout the world is both warranted and earned. But there is a tendency for us as contemporary miners to view their knowledge and abilities to get the gold as nearly "superhuman" compared to our own.
In fact the truth of the matter is that the oldtimers, in many instances, labored under a fundamental deficiency of knowledge regarding the science of gold geology and formation, deposition physics, and stream hydraulics. Coincidentally, they knew little about mining equipment and processes and had to learn hard way by trial or error, or under the tutelage of more experienced miners. The early years of the California Gold Rush provide a good example of what I am speaking about here.
What the Oldtimers Had That We Didn't
By comparison, those of us who mine gold today not only enjoy vast resources in terms of knowledge, but we have access to some of the best placer gold mining tools and equipment around. In fact, our modern gear (right down to the basic "Gravity Trap" style gold pan) would probably make an oldtimer shake his head in wonder.
So what did the oldtimers have that we didn't? Good ground, my friend, good ground. In most instances auriferous ground that had lain untouched for millenia, where gold had accumulated in vast amounts that boggle the imagination. Ground where every bedrock crack, cranny, and crevice was crammed full with flakes, nuggets, and fines and every inside bend held a treasure storehouse in placer gold in its gravels. In essence, virgin placer ground that you and I are unlikely to come across in our mining lifetimes.
Who Was Left With the Rest of That Gold?
Early on in their mining efforts (regardless of geographic location) the oldtimers took the path of least resistance and gathered up all the easy-to-get gold first. In extremely rich placer areas like the California Goldfields of 1848-1851 this could literally mean prying nuggets out of crevices with a pocketknife or recovering 10 ounces or more from a single panful of river gravel. Believe it or not, once this easily accessible gold was recovered many miners abandoned their claims in favor of new and richer areas to work ("the grass is always greener on the other side of the hill").
Only later would other miners return to expend additional effort to recover the harder-to-get gold values that lay deeper under successive layers of gravel overburden. And in these return efforts the oldtimers were still hampered by deficiencies in knowledge, poor equipment, lack of water, and yes, a form of laziness that still led them to take the path of least resistance and extract the gold that was easier to get.
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Who was left with the rest of that gold? The hard-to-get-at stuff that required the greatest effort, imagination, and knowledge to recover. The gold that might take new types of equipment to get at it? Why us, of course.
In Part 2 of this series of posts I'll provide you with ideas on looking for what the oldtimers missed. Until then, keep smiling and stay safe.
If you liked this post, you may want to read: "Bacon and Beans From a Gold Pan"
(c) J.R. 2009
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