What is placer gold?
The word placer (pronounced – plas-er, not pley-ser) is a Spanish derived word which refers to an alluvial or eluvial deposit of gravel containing particles of valuable minerals such as gold, silver or platinum. As such, placer gold is gold that has weathered from the host rock where it was formed and been “placed” either on hillside (eluvial placer), stream bed or alluvial fan by the action of water, glaciers or other geological forces. Subjected to millions of years of weathering, upheaval and the action of water, lode gold tends to expose itself and erode from it’s source to naturally distribute itself among the other rocks and earth subjected to the same forces and form a secondary or residual deposit called a gold placer. As time moves, so does the gold. It can be found embedded in the placer gravels and alluvial fans as specimen gold still attached to the host stone to some degree, gold nuggets, small flakes, fine gold and even down to micron gold smaller than can be seen with the naked eye.
Gold is heavy. Roughly, it is 19 times heavier than water. As such, gold particles of any substantive size do not tend to move far from the source. Being subject to the forces of gravity, placer gold tends to move downward, sinking as deep as it possibly can and following the path of least resistance. As the gold comes into contact with rocks and water, it breaks up slowly over time, becoming finer and finer as it moves away from the auriferous vein or lode from which it came, eventually depositing on a beach or even in the ocean at the foot of a river. Extremely small particles of fine gold can travel hundreds of miles from their primary source while the larger nuggets, specimen gold and crystalized gold remain closer to the source, trapped by their own weight and the features of the surrounding bedrock or gradient property of the stream beds.
Much of the gold that existed in ancient times was derived from placer gold. Man, since ancient times, has been mining placer gold because of the ease with which it can be recovered. Although most of the placer gold from ancient times and even from later gold rushes has been melted down for jewelry or bullion, more recently it has found it’s place as a precious gemstone and treated as something beautiful in it’s own right. Placer gold nuggets are often used to fashion gold nugget jewelry or placed on display in museums or in private collections. Indeed, placer gold in it’s untouched form is often worth more than the weight of the gold itself.
Specimen Gold Nugget found in a hillside placer.
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