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Placer refers to a sandbank of soil (alluvial) deposit that contains various particles of different precious metals. These types of sandbanks are usually comprised of something known as "detrital" material, including soil and gravel mixes.
Placer gold is gold that has been formed as rocks and soil are moved through stream beds by various geological events, such as earthquakes, landslides or glacial movement. Gold that is formed in lodes will erode from its natural source over time and become equally distributed among rocks and soil. This is referred to as a secondary deposit of precious metal.
Mining of alluvial deposits for gold or other types of precious metals, such as silver, is referred to by the term, "placer mining." This type of mining is done using a variety of techniques for tunneling into the ground and riverbeds and retrieving the deposits. For example, open cast mining happens when an open pit is created. Another type of placer mining is hydraulic mining, in which high water pressure is used to dig into the deposits and retrieve the gold.
The main three types of placer mining used for gold are:
Gold Panning Gold panning is a method in which alluvial deposits are placed within a large metal or plastic pan and rinsed liberally with water. When the pan is shifted and agitated, the main parts of soil, sand or mud are rinsed away, leaving a pan full of stones and potential gold particles. Because gold particles have a much higher density than the sand, gravel and water, they tend to settle to the bottom of the pan, and the lighter particles are rinsed away.
Sluice Box The sluice box method of placer mining is similar to the technique used in gold panning, yet occurs on a much grander scale. Sluice boxes are made with barriers on the bottom that are designed to trap any gold particles that are rinsed out of the soil This type of placer mining is best used for gold excavation where larger equipment, such as shovels, are used to lift ore into the box.
Trommel The trammel method of placer mining is a technique that employs a screened cylindrical case that helps to sift the materials such as gold particles, sand, soil, rocks and mud. The term "trommel" is actually a Dutch word that means "drum," and refers to the cylinder. The trommel is a rotating tube made of metal that is slanted and has a screen at one end to trap the gold particles. When ore is put into the tube at the top, high pressure water spray is injected into the tube. Minerals are separated from the ore by the pressurized water and spinning action of the tube. After using the trommel, sluicing is often used for additional purifying of the samples.
Around the world, placer mining continues to be an important source of industrial metals, gems and valuable minerals. The countries with the highest amount of placer mining are Sri Lankia and Myanmar, but it is a large industry in British Columbia, Alaska and the Yukon Territory as well.