“Gold mining and the life of gold miners in South Dakota, as seen by the mining company.”
Public domain film from the Library of Congress Prelinger Archive, slightly cropped to remove uneven edges, with the aspect ratio corrected, and mild video noise reduction applied.
The soundtrack was also processed with volume normalization, noise reduction, clipping reduction, and equalization.
Gold mining is the removal of gold from the ground. There are several techniques and processes by which gold may be extracted from the earth.
Gold panning is mostly a manual technique of separating gold from other materials. Wide, shallow pans are filled with sand and gravel that may contain gold. The pan is submerged in water and shaken, sorting the gold from the gravel and other material. As gold is much denser than rock, it quickly settles to the bottom of the pan. The panning material is usually removed from stream beds, often at the inside turn in the stream, or from the bedrock shelf of the stream, where the density of gold allows it to concentrate, a type called placer deposits.
Gold panning is the easiest technique for searching for gold, but is not commercially viable for extracting gold from large deposits, except where labor costs are very low or gold traces are substantial. Panning is often marketed as a tourist attraction on former gold fields. Before large production methods are used, a new source must be identified and panning is useful to identify placer gold deposits to be evaluated for commercial viability.
Using a sluice box to extract gold from placer deposits has long been a common practice in prospecting and small scale mining. A sluice box is essentially a man made channel with riffles set in the bottom. The riffles are designed to create dead zones in the current to allow gold to drop out of suspension. The box is placed in the stream to channel water flow. Gold bearing material is placed at the top of the box. The material is carried by the current through the box where gold and other dense material settles out behind the riffles. Less dense material flows out of the box as tailings.
Larger commercial placer mining operations employ screening plants, or trommels, to remove the larger alluvial materials such as boulders and gravel, before concentrating the remainder in a sluice box or jig plant. These operations typically include diesel powered, earth moving equipment, including excavators, bulldozers, wheel loaders, and rock trucks.
Although this method has largely been replaced by modern methods, some dredging is done by small scale miners using suction dredges. These are small machines that float on the water and are usually operated by one or two people. A suction dredge consists of a sluice box supported by pontoons, attached to a suction hose which is controlled by a miner working beneath the water…
Gold ore processing
In placer mines, the gold is recovered by gravity separation. For hard rock mining, other methods are usually used.
Cyanide extraction of gold may be used in areas where fine gold bearing rocks are found. Sodium cyanide solution is mixed with finely ground rock that is proven to contain gold or silver, and is then separated from the ground rock as gold cyanide or silver cyanide solution. Zinc is to precipitate out residual zinc as well as the silver and gold metals. The zinc is removed with sulfuric acid, leaving a silver or gold sludge that is generally smelted into an ingot then shipped to a metals refinery for final processing into 99.9999% pure metals.
Advancements in the 1970s have seen activated carbon used in extracting gold from the leach solution. The gold is absorbed into the porous matrix of the carbon. Activated carbon has so much internal surface area, that fifteen grams (half an ounce) has the equivalent surface area of the Melbourne Cricket Ground (18,100 square metres (195,000 sq ft)). The gold can be removed from the carbon by using a strong solution of caustic soda and cyanide, a process known as elution. Gold is then plated out onto steel wool through electrowinning. Gold specific resins can also be used in place of activated carbon, or where selective separation of gold from copper or other dissolved metals is required.
The cyanide technique is crude and is commonly used in low grade gold and silver ore processing. There are many environmental hazards associated with this extraction method in addition to the high toxicity of the cyanide itself. An acute example was demonstrated in the 2000 Baia Mare cyanide spill environmental disaster when a break in a waste pond dam gold mine reprocessing facility near Baia Mare in northern Romania released approximately 100,000 cubic metres (3,500,000 cu ft) of waste water contaminated with heavy metal sludge and up to 120 long tons (122 t) of cyanide into the Tisza River…