Gold in placer deposits

Bulletin 1857-G
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Man most likely first obtained gold from placer deposits, more than 6,000 years ago. Placers account for more than two-thirds of the total world gold supply, and roughly half of that mined in the States of California, Alaska, Montana, and Idaho.

Placer deposits result from weathering and release of gold from lode deposits, transportation of the gold, and concentration of the gold dominantly in stream gravels. Unless preserved by burial, a placer subsequently may be eroded, and either dispersed or reconcentrated.

California has produced more than 40 million troy ounces of gold from placers, both modern and fossil (Tertiary). The source of the great bulk of the gold is numerous quartz veins and mineralized zones of the Mother Lode and related systems in the western Sierra Nevada region. The gold-bearing lodes were emplaced in Carboniferous and Jurassic metamorphic rocks intruded by small bodies of Jurassic and Cretaceous igneous rocks. Mineralization occurred probably in Late Cretaceous time. Significant amounts of placer gold also were mined along the Salmon and Trinity Rivers in northern California. Source of the gold is lode deposits in Paleozoic and Mesozoic metamorphic rocks that were intruded by Mesozoic igneous rocks.

Alaska has produced roughly 21 million ounces of gold from placer deposits. Most (about 13 million ounces) has come from the interior region, including 7,600,000 ounces from the Fairbanks district and 1,300,000 ounces from the Iditarod district. Lode sources are believed to be mostly quartz veins in Precambrian or Paleozoic metamorphic rocks intruded by small igneous bodies near Fairbanks, and shear zones in Tertiary(?) quartz monzonite stocks at Iditarod. The Seward Peninsula has produced more than 6 million ounces of placer gold, including about 4,000,000 ounces from the Nome district. Most of the gold was derived from raised beach deposits. Source of the gold probably is Tertiary-mineralized faults and joints in metamorphic rocks of late Precambrian age.

The Helena-Last Chance district, Montana, produced nearly 1 million ounces of gold from placers that were derived from lode deposits in the contact zones of the Cretaceous Boulder batholith granitic rocks intruded into upper Precambrian, Paleozoic, and Mesozoic sedimentary rocks. The Virginia City-Alder Gulch district, Montana, produced more than 2,600,000 ounces of gold, nearly all from placer deposits derived from quartz veins of uncertain age in Archean gneisses and schists. The Boise basin district, Idaho, produced about 2,300,000 ounces of gold, mostly derived from quartz veins in quartz monzonite of the Cretaceous Idaho batholith.

Study Area

Publication type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Title Gold in placer deposits
Series title Bulletin
Series number 1857
Chapter G
DOI 10.3133/b1857G
Year Published 1989
Language English
Publisher U.S. Government Printing Office
Description iv, 19 p.
Larger Work Title Geology and resources of gold in the United States
Country United States
State Alaska, California, Idaho, Montana
Google Analytic Metrics Metrics page
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