Gold Panning

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Gold Panning in County Wicklow
Gerry Stanley - Minerals Section, GSI

I was delighted to be asked to lead another gold panning expedition to the River Dodder for the Irish Geological Association (IGA) on December 1st 2012. These trips are always fun to lead and the excitement on the faces of young and old when they discover their first gold is always joyful and stimulating.

The weather was kind to us, dry but a little chilly. However, I actually had my sleeves rolled up all afternoon and didn’t feel the cold such was the camaraderie and enthusiasm of the group. There was a real buzz among the participants – between 15 and 20 people participated.

First up, I demonstrated how I carry out panning with an attentive audience riverside while I was in the river abstracting river bed sediment, sieving and then panning. I explained that the better place to take the sediment is where the river current is slower and so on the inside of a very shallow curve we took most of our sediment. Unlike James Bond, I do panning by stirring (actually swirling) not by shaking. I explained that the panning motion that I use is a combination of two movements – one circular and the other a tilting back and forth all carried out under water. I tried to convince people that there were two people actually panning – a Mr. (or Ms) Gold and the person carrying out the panning. Mr. (or Ms) Gold knows his/her job and he/she carries it out very efficiently – it is to stay in the pan. The gold-panner’s job is to get the other sediment out of the pan. Mr. (or Ms) Gold is very heavy compared to its volume (or more scientifically gold has a very high specific gravity – in fact gold has a specific gravity of 19t/m3 (or g/cm3) whereas most common rock fragments have a value that is closer to 3t/m3 meaning that gold has a specific gravity that is more than 6 times greater than the other rock fragments in the pan). The gold therefore finds it easier to remain in the pan while the fragments with the lower specific gravity are removed from the pan by the swirling action of the panner. Sad to say that the demonstration pan did not yield any gold.

All participants then got into the river to try their luck. It wasn’t long until the busy crew were sucking up sediment, sieving and doing there own panning. It was a most industrious sight. And then there was the most asked question – ‘is that gold?’ And then there was the moment we were all waiting for – an emphatic YES – small, yellowy with an unmistakeable surface rough texture and a reluctance to move around the pan. What a great incentive to more urgent than endeavour. And again YES – and this time it could easily be seen. There were several more YESES throughout the afternoon and in the last pan of the day there were three grains.

I think everyone went home happy having learnt the art of panning and some went home with gold in there ‘pockets’. The group were issued with their official gold panning certificates which I am sure they will proudly display.

There was an added encouragement for us to do well as Joe McGreally from RTE turned up to report on our efforts. We were rewarded when an item appeared on the RTE News at both 1.00pm and 6.00pm bulletins with our new stars Patrick Roycroft and Jonas Brandt.