Friday, July 22

The hell of Serra Pelada mines, 1980s

Gold is a funny old metal kids. Because of our culture and history and what have you, it's hold on our imaginations is ferocious. Even rich people go crazy when they hold gold in their hands. I was at the Bank of England museum where they have a bar of gold which you can touch and it's a strange feeling when that happens. You feel a strange feeling of envy and avarice. You want to own it. And want to have more of it. I didn't feel good about myself. I thought that I didn't have greed or lust for gold but that brought it up. 
There's an old Indian story about this farmer who finds 9 pots buried on his land. And he is giddy with delight as he opens up the pots one by one and shows to his wife. And keeps on doing so till he reaches the last one. And he sees that it's only half full. And he then falls into a depression and wants to fill it up. And he sells his stuff. His land. And and just to fill up the last pot. His happiness and wealth just goes off. That's what gold does. 
Pearl s Buck, who wrote one of the best novels in history, the good earth, died a few days back. And the story talks about a peasant who then becomes rich and how his family works out. It's a really touching and moving story. Wealth and gold is a dual edged sword. Greed can inflict anybody. 
Look at the amazing photographs. It's like hell on earth with pain, mud, sweat, gold, murder, wealth, drugs, sex, greed, lust, all mixed up in an unholy mixture. What do you do? You just watch and wonder. 
Hope your days are going well son. I'm not able to speak to you even though you're at home and I miss you. Hopefully this weekend I'll get a chance to know how you're going through. Don't forget what I said about the suit son. Hang it up. It keeps it shape. 
Choti, I was quite impressed by your exposition on free markets on the animal kingdom or crossing or what have you game. It was very exciting how you were selling and buying there. Hope your cough gets better soon and sorry for having given the cough and cold to you :) 

The hell of Serra Pelada mines, 1980s
(via Instapaper)

Serra Pelada was a large gold mine in Brazil.

During the early 1980s, tens of thousands of prospectors flocked to the Serra Pelada site.
Serra Pelada was a large gold mine in Brazil 430 kilometres (270 mi) south of the mouth of the Amazon River. In 1979 a local child swimming on the banks of a local river found a 6 grams (0.21 oz) nugget of gold. Soon word leaked out and by the end of the week a gold rush had started. During the early 1980s, tens of thousands of prospectors flocked to the Serra Pelada site, which at its peak was said to be not only the largest open-air gold mine in the world, but also the most violent.
At first the only way to get to the remote site was by plane or foot. Miners would often pay exorbitant prices to have taxis drive them from the nearest town to the end of a dirt track; from there, they would walk the remaining distance—some 15 kilometers (9.3 mi) to the site. Huge nuggets were quickly discovered, the biggest weighing nearly 6.8 kilograms (15 lb), $108,000 at the 1980 market price ( now $ 310,173 in 2016). During the peak of the gold rush the mine was known for appalling conditions and violence, whilst the town that grew up beside it was notorious for both murder and prostitution.
Brazilian photographer SebastiĆ£o Salgado traveled to the mines of Serra Pelada taking some of the most haunting pictures of the workers there, highlighting the sheer madness and chaos of the operation. He's quoted as saying when he saw the mine, "Every hair on my body stood on edge. The Pyramids, the history of mankind unfolded. I had traveled to the dawn of time".
This is how SebastiĆ£o Salgado describes the mine during an interview in 1992:
Swept along by the winds that carry the hint of fortune, men come to the gold mine of Serra Pelada. No one is taken there by force, yet once they arrive, all become slaves of the dream of gold and the need to stay alive. Once inside, it becomes impossible to leave.

Every time a section finds gold, the men who carry up the loads of mud and earth have, by law, the right to pick one of the sacks they brought out. And inside they may find fortune and freedom. So their lives are a delirious sequence of climbs down into the vast hold and climbs out to the edge of the mine, bearing a sack of earth and the hope of gold.
Anyone arriving there for the first time confirms an extraordinary and tormented view of the human animal : 50,000 men sculpted by mud and dreams. All that can be heard are murmurs and silent shouts, the scrape of shovels driven by human hands, not a hint of a machine. It is the sound of gold echoing through the soul of its pursuers.

Because they work in mud, the gold diggers were called "mud hogs".

Because of the use of mercury in the gold extraction process large areas around the mine are considered dangerously contaminated.
The discovery of gold in Serra Pelada was unlike any other area on Earth, there was evidence that the gold formed supergenetically (meaning the gold was enriched near the surface by circulation of rain water) which is unique to the Amazon gold deposits. To this day the process of supergene enrichment is still unexplained. The best hypothesis so far is that rain water mixes with the decaying organic matter of the Amazon forest making the water acidic. This acidic water then becomes a ligand (an ionic network which gold can bond to and therefore be transported by) for gold molecules which then penetrate the ground and eventually accumulate to form an enriched gold zone. Some of the largest gold nuggets in the world formed in these areas.
In the pictures, there can be seen a lot of blocky areas, this is actually because for each miner it was assigned a 2mx2m area. People would just dig down (because that's all they could do). This became a safety hazard because they didn't know if the person who was assigned the 2mx2m lot next to them was still alive and digging down on their area. If they weren't digging, then all the block around them would go deeper and deeper until that persons block became structurally unsafe and would collapse, killing workers it collapsed on.

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