Apr 9, 2012

Nephi and Osa Gold 

And it came to pass that we did find upon the land of promise ... 
all manner of ore, both of gold, and of silver, and of copper  1 Ne. 18:25

Pre-columbian gold artifacts from museum
Earlier I proposed that the original landing place of the Nephites was in the Diquis region of southwestern Costa Rica.  This would be somewhere near the modern town of Palmar Sur, at the mouth of the Terraba River.  There are several archaeological sites near this area which could have been the original site, although most of them are dated later than Nephi's time.  One of the evidences of the original "land of first inheritance" should be abundant mineral deposits as mentioned in the above scripture.  This region of Costa Rica is indeed rich in mineral deposits.  Historically, it has been the richest gold producing area in the country, and judging from all the Pre-Columbian gold artifacts that have been found there, it has been producing gold for many centuries.  
Indeed, the placer gold deposits of the Osa Peninsula are famous in this region and are still producing gold today.  I envision Nephi having been able to easily recover gold from this area which he would have used to manufacture his plates, adorn his temple, and use in commerce.  Such placer deposits could have much more easily been worked than hard rock deposits which require much more labor, tools, and special extraction techniques.   

On a recent visit to the Osa Peninsula I was able to learn first hand a lot of the recent history of the area, as well as observe the modern day “oreros”, or gold miners, at work, and get a feel for the country.  My brother and I spent several days above Dos Brazos on the Rio Tigre, one of the historic mining camps of the Osa.  
Placer gold was “rediscovered” there about 1935, and it has been heavily mined ever since.  Although mechanized mining is prohibited today by the government, individual die-hard miners still work the streams in small numbers.  Their tools – a home-made shovel, a four foot piece of heavy re bar with pointed ends, a unique gold pan, and a small home-made sluice.  
They first find a promising area by panning along the stream bed until they find good “colors.” Then they will start a hole in the stream channel, diverting away most of the water if possible.  They use the shovel and the bar to loosen and remove the gravel, and then let the current help them clear out the debris.  The pointed bar is repeatedly pounded down into the stream-bed, loosening the gravel, until bedrock is reached.  Their shovels have an elongated handle to allow them to dig down deep in the stream channels and reach the bed rock layer where most of the gold is concentrated. 
After they have found some promising material, they will remove it and run it through their short sluice.  Once they have processed sufficient material, they will then pan the concentrates to recover the gold.  If they can recover 1-2 grams per day, they consider it a success.  That amounts to $50-100 per day at today's prices.  While I was visiting with one of the gold buyers at Dos Brazos, a local miner brought in 8 grams and sold it to him.  This probably represented up to a week's work.  
They use a unique gold pan of their own design and manufacture.  It consists of a shallow, inverted cone, about 20 inches in diameter and 3 inches deep, made of sheet aluminum.  The pans have no riffles and rely on the heaviness of the gold, which settles in the central point of the cone. The lighter sand and gravel are washed over the edge with a swirling, circular motion until all that is left is the heavier material.  
Most of the gold recovered today is fairly fine, most of the nuggets having been discovered earlier.   Much of the earlier gold was quite coarse and several examples are exhibited in the Gold Museum in San Jose, Costa Rica.  One is the size of a small baseball, and the other the size of a man's hand as illustrated in the attached photo.  There are numerous gold relics and artifacts in this museum which were discovered in the Diquis region of the country.  
The geology of the region is quite interesting.  It consists of several formations of volcanic origin, mostly basalts, which were originally deposited on the seafloor.  The gold was originally deposited in small, stringer veins which accompanied the volcanic eruptions.  These were later eroded and the gold concentrated repeatedly over time.  Finally, it was deposited in a gravel layer at the base of one of the formations and hardened into a stone called conglomerate.  When modern streams cut thru these gold bearing conglomerates, the gold was further concentrated forming todays rich placer deposits in the streams of the Osa Peninsula.  The gold bearing zone begins at about Palmar Sur, to the north, and extends down to the Burica Peninsula in Panama, to the south.
The accompanying map shows the various mineral properties in the area.  This is taken from the Mineral Resources Map site.
Map showing gold mines of Osa
Peninsula.  42 gold deposits in white.
A note of interest: 42 of the marked deposits are designated as gold deposits.  Also at the top of this map are two sites, Finca 6, and farther inland Curre, that I think might have been the original Nephite landing site.
About 30-40 years ago various mining groups brought in heavy dredging equipment and processed all the gravels of the stream channels outside of the present Corcovado National Park.  As a result there are very few rich pockets of material left and the present miners have to be content with the "gleanings" of the old deposits.  Before the time of the heavy dredging, there must have been an abundance of gold along the stream courses.  One of the locals relates that years ago the children were taught to search for nuggets and small pieces of gold by scouring the surface of the stream gravels and looking under rocks where the gold might settle.  I would imagine that it was that way in Nephi's day, only more so.

*An interesting book describing life in the gold fields of the Osa is Goldwalker by Scott Anderson (1989) published by Breaker Press.  It has very vivid descriptions of the life and times of the miners, however, is probably R rated (if books have ratings), so be fore warned.