Prospecting may be considered as the art and science of searching for minerals and rocks that are attractive, interesting or of economic value. This may include rock-hounding, collecting fossils or mineral specimens of gem quality.
Prospecting is an activity that appeals to people of many different walks of life, who enjoy being in the outdoors. Fisher people, loggers, hunters, and others quickly add a whole new perspective to their outdoor life after they have taken a prospecting course. Rocks which had previously gone unnoticed come alive and tell a story to the newly-awakened prospecting eye. To the experienced eye, an outcropping of rock is a chapter of the earth’s history frozen in time and space, waiting to be unraveled.
People who spend time in the outdoors can add prospecting to their activities with little or no added costs. The only essential piece of equipment is a gold pan, rock hammer (and safety glasses). Prospecting can be quite rewarding when economic minerals or interesting rocks are first discovered. Gemstones and fossils may also be found and are much sought after by collectors. Prospecting can be quite strenuous depending on the terrain, making it an excellent way of keeping fit and enjoying nature. Some prospectors make a full time living at their craft and a rare few (not necessarily experienced) may discover a rich mineral deposit.
WHY IS PROSPECTING IMPORTANT?
Exploration and development of new mineral prospects creates substantial wealth and economic spin-off activity: this is especially important in rural areas which depend on resource development for jobs. Prospecting generates new mineral discoveries (or prospects) and is the critical first stage of the mineral exploration process. Mining companies explore these new prospects, hoping to define greater accumulations of valuable minerals on or below the surface. If these minerals are found in sufficient quantity, which can be extracted and processed for a profit, then a mine may be developed.
Prospectors have traditionally not been trained geologists, but have relied on keen observation skills and knowledge of local rock types to find gold. Prospectors in the late 19th and early 20th centuries accounted for most gold deposit discoveries. With the dwindling of easily and cheaply discoverable gold deposits, exploration companies with greater resources have become the main discoverers of gold deposits.
This does not take away from fact that prospecting is an invaluable skill to any professional geologist and one that too often is lacking.
Professional prospectors represent only a small part of modern gold exploration. They continue to recover placer gold directly through panning or with metal detectors. They may also actively work exploration licenses and carry out early stage mapping and sampling with the aim of adding value to them so that it may be on sold to a company for profit. The cost of later stage exploration work such as drilling prohibits prospectors from taking gold discoveries past this early stage, though they may still become extremely wealthy if the results of their work look very good and a company enters into partnership with them to fund further work.