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Discovery of an antique gold
mine in Belgium.
About 11 years ago, I started prospecting the Belgian creeks
in the Ardennes with my friend Jean Detaille. I met him in 1987 at a mineral
show in Liège and he accepted to teach me goldpanning. All these years, we went
prospecting in all weathers always hoping to find something bigger.
We have had two gold rushes in Belgium. The first one took place about 2000 years ago and lasted for centuries and the second one began in 1875 and came to an end around 1920. Nowadays very nice gold can still be found in the creeks but the quantities have become so small that many give up rapidly. We only get what our ancestors left us and it is not much. A good day for us means a few hundred gold flakes of an average size of 0.8mm. Sometimes we have exceptional days wit more than a thousand flakes. Personally, my best day was 0.3 gr. Gold flakes are so hard to find that we donít weigh the gold most of the time, we count it. However, the gold has an extremely interesting morphology. Itís always very jagged with little quartz inclusions just like a mini-nugget.
During these 11 years we made a few lucky discoveries but
truly nothing had prepared us to the discovery Iím going to tell you about.
Everything started 6 or 7 years ago. An historian
from Liège, Lambert Grailet, asks me to explore a specific region in the
Ardennes to prove the presence of gold. He has seen tailings and wants to use
the results of my prospections to illustrate a book he is writing. He also
mentions a hole named ďle Trou des MassotaisĒ
which according to the legend is concealing a gallery. Since it is a legend and
that, at the time, I have more interest for the real gold, I neglect his
By the end of í99 Lambert still has his own conviction and
starts emptying the hole which is full of water. A journalist helps him and
after a week of pumping with a tiny pump, they discover the entrance of a real
gallery. I donít more to be convinced and I start looking for the hole as well.
Jean does the same but unfortunately we canít find the correct location.
Finally, in march 2000 we try once more and this time, after hours of walking in
the country, we are able to locate the site. The hole is surrounded by tailings
that clearly come from the ground. By chance we have goldpans with us and we
start washing some dirt. At the first pan I canít believe my eyes. There is a
tiny little flake of gold, right at the bottom of the pan. Oh, itís not big,
only around 0.1mm, but it represents a unique discovery in Belgian history. For
the first time, we are able to prove the existence of a real hard rock gold mine
in Belgium. We find more in the following pans but the size remains very small.
Jean and I are so happy that we literally dance around the hole. Although the
discovery is small in size, even according to Belgian standards, it symbolises
the achievement of a long quest. Everything a goldprospector can hope for has
The next Saturday we go back on the spot hoping to find more;
and more we found. The flakes are bigger in some places. The gold is extremely
jagged. Clearly it hasnít rolled at all. I even find a big flake of around 1cm
sandwiched in its mother rock. The same night I contact Lambert Grailet to
inform him of our discovery. Since a journalist was initially involved Lambert
wants to be the first to write about it to be credited the discovery. But,
overwhelmed by his enthusiasm, he launches a real media frenzy. Every Belgian TV
or newspaper talks about the mine. The owner of the ground, shocked by this
sudden gold fever prohibits all access to the site and hires extra ranchers to
chase any intruder away. The University of Liège, Brussels and even the ministry
of economical affairs get involved. The fever lasts a few weeks and then
everything is forgotten. Jean and I regret a little that we talked so fast. It
is now impossible to go back there. So for a few months we do as if we give up.
But secretly I contact the university of Liège to organise an archaeological
study of the site.
Around mid-October, Everything is forgotten and we obtain the
authorisation to empty the hole again. Jean and I are filled with joy. We both
feel that there is more there under. And we were right. The result will exceed
our wildest dreams.
After two days of pumping with heavy material and a team of
10 people, we discover a real antique gallery still supported by wooden
structures incredibly well preserved in the acid water. It looks as if the
workers left the day before. The roof has partially collapsed but a 10 meter
long section remains untouched. I even find a wooden shovel on the tailings at
the end of the gallery. The wall shows chisel or pick marks. During our free
time, Jean and I wash frenetically dirt to collect more gold flakes. It is
unbelievable! Those two days were the best of our gold prospector life. In
total, we were lucky enough to find more and bigger flakes than what we had ever
Today, the specialists still study the findings which have generated many questions. How old is the mine? The youngest it can be is around 1750 and the oldest is 2000 years. How did the gold form and what is the extent of the deposit? Geologist are confronted to a puzzle. And so on. Scientist now take it over and try to find answers. But as far as we are concerned we are happy enough to have had the opportunity to be associated to such discovery and to have experienced such a wonderful adventure.
By the time Iím writing these lines, we have found more
interesting elements. Unfortunately, I still must keep it secret. A study group
has been created and we want to avoid any new media frenzy. But who knows? I
might tell you more if you come and visit us at our second Belgian Goldpanning
Championships on 25 and 26 august 2001. There, you will even be exceptionally
allowed to pan for nice Belgian gold in a historic place. Interested? Please
feel free to contact me at :
,Rue Bassenge 4
,4000 Liege, Tel: 32-4-221.39.19
Golden greetings to all