Gold Extraction

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Due to the inherent value that humans attribute to gold, many civilizations have tried various processes of gold extraction throughout the centuries, with methods that range from the rudimentary to the complex. One of the earliest methods of gold extraction employed even to this day is place mining – a method of gold extraction that involved the use of panning and sluicing, a procedure now immortalized in many a Western movie and novel as the easiest and most accessible means to extract gold from rich deposits. While this is considerably the easiest method of gold extraction, it also provides very little yields, often resulting in finds that consist of tiny gold nuggets and flakes.[1] While this practice yields more than adequate amounts for artisan work, gold that is used for industry or for the large-scale production of jewelry and other materials needs a process of extraction that is much more thorough and that provides larger, more profitable yields as a result.

A number of large scale gold extraction processes have been developed over the years, some with more success than others. One of the more recent method employed in mass-scale gold extraction is the employment of hydraulic mining. Popularized during the latter decades of the 20th century, it was one of the most common methods, aside from the more manual panning, that was employed during the Californian Gold Rush[2] of the later 1900s. Today, methods such as open pit mining[3] and sub-surface mining[4] are also employed to extract gold from the ground or to attain ores that can later be processed and extracted for its gold contents.

The whole scheme of gold extraction does not simply involve finding the means to unearth the precious metal. Because gold rarely occurs in its pure state in nature, gold deposits may contain ores that possess large amounts or insignificant (but nevertheless valuable) amounts of gold intermixed with other minerals. The secondary method of gold extraction involves methods of refining and purifying the ores that encase the gold, to allow for the obtainment of the much-coveted metal. The uses of methods such as dump leaching and heap leaching can help to extract some of the gold from ores that contain low-grade deposits.[4] Ores may further be crushed, heated, oxidized, or immersed in cyanide solution to further extract any remaining deposits of gold. Some methods of gold extraction such as cyanide oxidization procedures and pyrometallurgical processes are usually employed in industrial gold extraction as they usually provide better yields, albeit with the drawback the end results needing a degree of purification to leech out any contaminant metals or minerals that may be intermixed with the gold.[5]

With the dawn of industrialization, the methods of gold extraction that were once limited to manual, if not rudimentarily mechanical procedures have progressed over the years, with mass scale gold mining and extraction methods now commonly undertaken with the help of machinery. Still, some miners and would-be prospectors nevertheless prefer the more traditional and less costly gold panning methods, for while these provide very little yields, they require only patience, a little degree of dexterity, and the light of Lady Luck.

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Content researched and created by Alexander Leonhart for ©

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