Exploration in the land of gold: A brief review of observations and techniques

April 17, 2022

by Ahmed Atito, Exploration Geologist at Nubian Mining Company

Ahmed in Wadi Allaqi

When someone asks, what is your job? You can say, ‘I’m a geologist’, but in my case, when you’re working in Egypt you can answer, ‘I’m not just a geologist. I’m a time traveller’.

It is not easy to work in such an environment, to be honest. It is always boiling hot with temperatures easily reaching 50 degrees Celsius (122 degrees Fahrenheit) in the summer. This is the case in Wadi Allaqi, one of the farthest places in Southern Egypt, with a granted license over a 600 sqr. km (231.66 sqr. mi) concession for gold exploration. There is no network, and the nearest city is a 4-hour drive from the camp.

Prospecting for mineral deposits is a big adventure and the heat is up when you can take a journey back in time from the place that you are exploring. During one adventure, I saw prehistoric carvings of The Nubian Ibex on the wall of a small cave while collecting samples from the area. It is amazing to see a place that was inhabited by humans maybe thousands of years ago.

I also remember my first day on the project when I saw the remains of a big ancient town of Roadstone huts, and I was surprised by how many there were and how people could live there, in the very tough conditions of the desert. But, the answer was that these remote communities were searching for gold!

Ancient Egyptians began mining for gold in Predynastic times (c. 6000-3150 BCE) using different methods like open pits and underground excavation. They managed to build powerful kingdoms for centuries because of the unequaled riches of the Egyptian gold deposits. But this is not the end!

During field reconnaissance activities, we found many artisanal works by local miners who had come to the desert and walked the track taken by the miners of old, while they were looking for gold. The quest for gold has become widespread in Egypt over the last decade. You can say it is a gold rush era and miners are targeting mineralized quartz veins not exceeding 15 cm (5.91 in) in thickness most of the time.

The artisans test the gold potential of the veins by taking small pieces of quartz. After that, they begin to crush it into a very fine powder before panning it in a small plate until they can see gold. They start exploiting the quartz veins using electrical breaker hammers to make pits and trenches along the strike of the veins. These miners can dig deep pits that could reach 20 m (49.21 ft) with simple tools.

Visible gold recovered from a 15 cm vein in the artisanal pit
Visible gold recovered from a 15 cm (≈ 6 in) vein in the artisanal pit

As an exploration geologist, my mission is to find ore deposits and to do that, I always rely on tools like GPS, compass, hand lens, hammer, notebook, safety goggles and sample bags. They are the main tools in the field. Sometimes I take 5 m (16.4 ft) and 30 m (98.43 ft) tapes to take survey of potentially prospect areas, just in case I find something interesting or if I want to take channel samples.

Regardless of the tools I mentioned above, I find that the most powerful tool utilized during fieldwork is the tablet. I believe that using the latest exploration techniques and novel technologies is the way to create and accomplish a successful exploration program. I use the tablet to import a wide variety of data that will help to manage my project rapidly, efficiently and accurately. In order to commence my reconnaissance exploration, I insert many types of data like satellite images, locations and descriptions of each sample and assay results, which is everything I need. When I’m taking a sample, I can always refer to previous samples from the same area. I also use the tablet in field mapping to draw different features and record descriptions in the field in addition to taking photos which I can link with the location that they were taken from. The data can be easily transferred to my laptop and I can manage it as I want.

My Wadi Allaqi project went through many phases since 2020, from collecting every bit of available data about the project area, including research and old maps, target generation, geochemical sampling with QA/QC, reconnaissance and detailed mapping, data analysis and RC drilling.

When it comes to drilling, the detailed maps of every target area that contains valuable information, such as different rock units, mineralized zones and structural geological data like strike, dip and extension of every feature, such as veins and dykes, should be ready before the drilling start.

We had to drill perpendicular to the dip of the targeted quartz veins with alteration zones, so the team made a cross-section for every planned borehole before the commencement of drilling. This was done to infer the expected thickness of mineralization and the positions of the hanging-wall rocks and foot-wall rocks to be intersected by every borehole.

My daily routine for RC drilling starts by preparing sample bags and chip trays for the planned borehole. Drilling lasts all day; from sunrise till sunset. For me, the most interesting is logging and describing the chips, because every detail is important and can potentially make a difference. After that, I spend my time in the office working on data entry and interpretation.

My most important task on this project is ensuring that safety is everyone’s responsibility. Some of my responsibilities are providing proper instructions, advising workers, drivers and technicians of the hazards and securing the use of personal protective equipment when workers are performing drilling or rock chipping, making sure that work boots are suitable to the terrain, appropriate eye and face protection, hard hats, dust masks and gloves are worn by the workers. This is a way to achieve an injury-free workplace, especially in the heart of the desert.

Being a geologist in the land of gold is no doubt a challenge, but it is a rewarding one. You never really know when you might be transported in time or what you might find.

For more information visit: www.nubianmining.com

Read Issue 19 here: 

Issue 19/ 2022