Essay, part 1 Introduction
Essay, part 2 Trading Gold for Salt
Essay, part 3 Mining the Gold
Essay, part 4 Using Gold-Dust as Money
Essay, part 5 Trading with Europeans

Mining the Gold

How did the Akan people find gold?

The Akan knew that the rainy season produced small particles of gold in the river beds. Occasionally larger gold nuggets were mixed in with the gravel. The digging season lasted only about seventy-five days until torrential rains and flooding made mining too dangerous to continue. During March and April, whole families joined in the mining operation. Women and children panned for gold in puddles near the river's edge. Men dove into the river or climbed down shafts dug into the earth.

Mining was dangerous and arduous work which yielded small quantities of gold, according to today's standards. A fortunate worker might have mined a 1/2 gram of gold after a day's work – the weight of half of one M&M candy. Over the course of one digging season, a worker would gather about one ounce of gold-dust.

How did the Akan get the gold out of the ground?

Women panned for gold in puddles near streams where grains of gold were mixed in with the grains of sand. They used pans or bowls which had been stained black to make the shiny grains of gold more obvious. They followed these steps:

1. The panners collected earth or sand in the largest wooden pan and mixed it with water. They stirred or shook the mixture with a swirling motion, letting the heavy grains of gold and bits of dirt and sand sink to the bottom.

2. They poured off the water and picked out as much of the sand as possible. Then they added more water and repeated the entire stirring and pouring off process many times, using smaller and smaller bowls, until the water was pure.

3. When the panning was done, the women inspected the residue carefully, picking out the grains of gold with a feather and storing them in a quill or a snail shell.

It is said that a good panner could process up to five-hundred pounds of soil per day. In less than an hour, a very skilled panner working in a very ordinary puddle could extract enough gold dust to cover a fingernail.

While women panned, men searched for gold in deep shafts dug into the earth. This work was very dangerous because no attempt was made to shore up the shafts. Many miners lost their lives when heavy rains caused the shafts to collapse around them. The successful miner followed these steps:

1.The miners dug a narrow shaft deep into the ground with an iron hoe. The shaft was only about two feet in diameter – barely enough room for a man to turn around – and as much as thirty to sixty feet deep. The miners cut toeholds into the side of the shaft so that they could climb in and out.

2. They squatted down at the bottom of the shaft and used the hoe to scrape earth into a calabash (bowl). A miner was often up to his waist in water that had collected in the bottom of the shaft.

3. The workers at the top of the shaft hauled up the full calabash and dumped the earth out onto the ground. The earth was allowed to dry out in the sun so that it could be crushed into a powder, washed, and inspected for gold-dust.


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