Desert Gold Diggers

Identifying Gold

There are several minerals that can be confused with gold, especially when in very small pieces. Small pieces of mica are especially confusing since they can have a yellowish sheen and are very common just about everywhere. The very first time that I panned for gold I was fooled by mica. Being very light, I should have suspected it was not gold as the flakes floated out of the pan. As noted on the Gold Facts page, gold is much denser than mica. This page was started as a response to an e-mail question.

Here are some simple tests.

For flecks in rock, a small piece of the rock needs to be ground up to free the flecks. Best done with a mortar and pestle but can be done carefully with a vice or hammer with some way to contain the resulting particles.

A good test is to look at the streak of a mineral. This is the color observed when the mineral is crushed into a fine powder and then placed on a white sheet of paper. A more convenient method is to rub the mineral across a tile of unglazed white porcelain, called a streak plate, and noting the color of the streak. See the following chart. Note that this test can only be used on minerals that do not exceed the hardness of the streak plate, about 6 1/2.

Selected Minerals and their streak color
Mineral Streak Color
Gold yellow or gold
Pyrite greenish black
Chalcopyrite greenish black
Arsenopyrite grayish black
Micas colorless

There are tests using acids but the above are the easiest with little or nothing to buy, are safer and should be enough. Especially if you are only trying to differentiate between gold and other minerals.

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This page was last updated on 25 September 2008.