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The Quest for Gold

I would like to have some information on the Gold research in Italian rivers. Are there any books on this issue?
I received such a letter. I feel it is important to publish both the letter and its answer. The search for gold in Italy is a niche sport. For a number of assorted reasons, prospector corporations have not yet spread out this sport which, while being accessible to all, is still secreted in mystery, misinformation and polite mockery. The most common question, the most ingenious is: ‘how many kilos do you make a day?’

I’m Giovanni L., a beginner enthusiast of the batea pan. I enjoyed visiting your site and did so with great interest and would like to take advantage of your offer regarding the recommendation of precious publications in order to locate repository fields and perhaps some authoritative promulgation on the techniques and best strategies for extraction using the batea pan.

Dear Giovanni, Though not easy to find, indeed there are some such books. “Gold mining in the 21th century” by Dave McCracken – this is really an excellent technical handbook, written with passion and competence. Of course, it puts more emphasis on American sites, but his knowledge is equivalent to a university degree in gold. It’s supplied by Keene Enineering, INC – 20201 Bahama Sreet – Chatswort, California 91311. ISBN code 09-636015-0-46.
You may also find something written in Italian, for Italian gold-bearing rivers.
“Guida pratica per la ricerca dell’oro in Italia” – a practical guide written by Giannino Rambardelli in 1990. It’s a great work, with maps of the best areas of the Italian gold-bearing rivers. It does not have an ISBN, so I think it was self-published.
Another interesting title: GOLD – where to look, how to find, written by Ottavio Lora, Planetarium Editing (Bologna) ISBN88-8026-013-8. This is an easy handbook written by an enthusiast, apt to ‘understand’ the rivers and streams of the Po valley. There is some difficulty in contacting the publisher though.Giuseppe Pipino wrote “L’oro del Ticino e la sua storia”, an excerpt taken from the ‘Historical Bulletin of the Province of Novara XCII’ (2002). This is a knowledgeable paper based on archive files, full of interesting ideas more for the historian than for those who want to handle the batea pan. In any case, Giuseppe Pipino is an authority in the field of Italian gold prospecting.
I also wrote something on gold panning which is found in chapters scattered throughout my books, (which I strongly recommend J).
As you see, the bibliographical outlook on gold panning in Italy is not exciting.
As you see, the bibliographical outlook on gold panning in Italy is not exciting. At any rate, the batea “technique” cannot be learned by book only. It is a fairly simple practice, which must be taught by a master. In addition, there are many different types of batea, each with its own features.Prospecting for placer gold is a wonderful way of learning, both for the sport that it involves, and for the deep knowledge of the river that it forces you to be acquainted with. Prospectors are colourful characters; for some the only goal is to race, for some the aim is to retrieve as much gold as possibile, others are simply attracted by the gold rush … All have secretes and envy, and learning from these can be hard. But it’s worth it!
But it’s worth it! In addition to research techniques, you have to deal with the legislation of the Regions and the Parks, which reach the point of sanctioning the maximum length of the shovel used for research, and establish severe penalties for those who use a shovel that is found to be longer than allowed. Fortunately, “intemperance is mitigated by inefficiency”, so I do not think that a ranger has ever measured the length of a shovel of a digger … but what has not happened in twenty years, can happen in a minute.

My best wishes of a good research.
See you!
Paolo Severi

Gold. In the periodic table it is at number 79, just before mercury, and immediately after platinum (the alchemists were right, even though they knew nothing about the periodic table of elements). It is a very heavy metal; a liter weighs the beauty of 19,30kg. Its atomic number is 196.966 (this information I provide for numerology students’ sake!). Its symbol is: Au. Gold has a habit of standing on his own. Basically, does not mix with any other element (most of the metals are found not in their “native” state, but in more or less complex chemical compositions.) Since we are interested in gold nuggets, we spend a few words on gold that is found in different forms; so, let’s do it! – Gold associated to arsenic, generally in “arsenopyrite” veins. Many mines (in Italy in Macugnaga) have these minerals. – Gold in free molecules, in any case not visible. Its extraction is possible with industrial means (there are important deposits in Sardinia). – Gold in ionic state (the sea is full of it; to pick it up is an entirely different matter). – Native gold in veins, usually associated with quartzite. (In Italy, the mines of Brusson in Val d’Aosta).

When a mountain erodes, native gold, is transported from veins by stones which in turn are reduced into sand; so gold dismantles from mother rock and loses its crystalline wear to become ‘nuggets’.”

This process is similar for all the gold-bearing rivers; even for the Ticino river. Every river has its own characteristics; for example, the Orba and the Elvo offer the ability to find big nuggets (urban legends rumour pieces as large as a bean, but in reality half a centimeter slivers are “quite” common. Ticino offers finely but small-powdered gold. You know, you need between 3 to 5,000 grains to make one gram.) Question: How do you know where to look? And how do you pick it up? Answer: The quest for gold is a discipline which is transmitted by the master to the disciple.

Although within in the next lines I will endevaour to give clarifying explanations, it will still be very difficult to understand from words which are the easy processes and which are the most difficult ones, and it will still be impossible to transmit the feeling you have when, at the end of the working day, at the bottom of the batea you see a strip of yellow dust spark before your eyes, still bright with the light of the setting sun, smiling at you of a priceless light. You have to try certain emotions; just so you can judge the appeal of the “gold fever”

Let’s elucidate a little. Gold is found as motes within quartzite rocks. Over the years, these rocks roll into the river depositing sand and gold scales break off. The specific weight of the gold is much greater than that of the stone from which it is detached, whereby the stone continues to roll, and the gold remains there where it is detached. Then, suddenly, there comes an uproarious flooding, with currents, eddies, landslides, and the river carries light things to one side and the heavy to the other, side. With a little training, you’ll have a clear idea where the river has deposited the heavier materials, and this is where you’ll begin to make your first tests. Indicative signs are the presence of large stones, maybe green, of ferrous debris, black sand. Very important are studies of the shape of the loops, of narrow strips of land, its depressions, and so on and so forth. There is literature on it, that I’ve already mentioned, but remember that every river has its own characteristics, and nothing is worth more than half a day spent with a person who knows what he’s talking about.

To see if there is gold at a certain point of the river (generally you choose a place on the shore, near the water), you put three to four handfulls of sand and gravel inside the flat finder (batea). You then fill it with water, and mix it vigorously. So the clay is now in a suspension, hence can be easily removed. When the water is clean, discard all the big stones. Unfortunately, we know that there are no large nuggets as the gravel, at least not in the Ticino river.

And here comes the fun part! You have to work keeping the pan in water for its three quarters, and cause rotation to eliminate, bit by bit, the sand that has a lower specific weight, i.e., that is lighter. All gray sand will be eliminated at first. And red and black sand will last. A lot of the black sand (not all of it, unfortunately) consists of magnetite, which can be more easily attracted by means of a magnet. With increasing scrutiny, you clean the red sand (garnet), then, and here the technique actually requires a little training, you go ahead to eliminate the remaining few grams of black powder (ilmenite, uraninite, rare earths). What remains is gold – that is, if we have worked well! It is well worth to insist with your exploration if, in the first attempt, you have managed to dam at least twenty yellow dots in your pan. If you decide it’s time to sweat heavily, you proceed as follows: sift the gravel and instantly get rid of stones bigger than 7-8 mm. You need a sloped trough in which there is a continuous water passage. On this sloped trough there are rungs, or other kinds of trap doors (today certain types of fitted carpet are used), which dredge from heavier materials. So after you wash a dozen bucketful of sand, (with great care) you gather the concentrated material collected by the sloped trough, and pass it to the pan, as explained before. The most common question is: “how much can we manage to round up in a day?”

One problem remains unsolved: what to do with the gold dust collected with so much effort? After all, this is pure gold, finer than industrial gold. We propose it as pure gold wedding rings and earrings from our river. Given that the pure gold is very soft, it is not suitable for more complicated processing techniques. Obviously, the manufacturing is carried out with older methods, without electrochemical refining that would distort the gold. Another applicability are ciondoli pendants made with a stone of the Ticino river together with a pinch of its own gold dust. Finally, we recommend reading our book “Perchè le Pietre Preziose“, which examines this topic in depth.