Situated in the northwest of South America, Colombia is considered one of the world’s 17 megadiverse countries and is the 4th largest economy in the continent. “Colombia’s history reads like a romance, a drama and a bad action movie all rolled into one.” Such is the opening sentence on Lonely Planet’s overview of this South American country. Indeed, the mere fact that Colombia’s name is derived from explorer Christopher Columbus makes it fairly easy to assume that Spain played a significant role in the country’s history.
Of course, when one combines South America and the Spanish colonial period, drama and upheaval are bound to make an appearance—and quite often, gold and silver show their faces as well.
The original native inhabitants of Colombia included the Muisca, Quimbaya and Tairona, and in 1499, Spanish explorers arrived and eventually developed the Viceroyalty of New Granada. Ironically enough, Columbus never set foot upon Colombian soil. It was in fact Alonso de Ojeda, a companion of Columbus’, who discovered and explored the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta.
The blend of curious explorer and significant local Indian wealth led to the birth of the El Dorado myth, which tells of a kingdom paved in gold and emeralds. This served as the proverbial pot at the end of the rainbow for Spain, and their search for this untold wealth led to the development of the land. The first stones of Santa Marta were laid in 1525, and Cartagena followed suit, becoming the principal center of trade. The economy was centered around gold mining, and amid all the political and economic upheavals and the eventual independence from Spain, Colombia grew to be the world’s largest gold producer during the 19th century.
An estimated $639,000,000 worth of gold was produced from 1537 until 1886, alongside a significant amount of silver as well.
Colombia has three main areas where gold can be found; the Andean Region, the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta Mountains and the Guyana Shield.
The Andean region contains many of the country’s city centers, and divides into three Cordilleras (Central, Occidental and Oriental). Much of the gold produced in Colombia’s early days came from this region, particularly in the Cordillera Central (more specifically in the Antioquia department in the central northwestern portion of the country).
Four major mineral belts in this region trend from north to northeasterly, the Choco belt, Middle Cauca belt, Segovia belt and California-Angostura district.
To the east of the Choco belt, the most significant Colombian placer deposits occur following the Rio Nechi. Gold can be found in the municipio of Zaragoza; in fact, the nearby town of Remedios was developed from the mining activities in that area during the colonial period. Almost all the tributaries of the Magdalena and Cauca heading towards the Cordillera Central carried placer gold, although the most productive areas were the Porce and Nechi rivers.
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These converge at Dos Bocas where considerable gold deposits have gathered over a wide stretch. The San Andres Creek, a tributary of the Rio San Bartolome, the Rio Nus (near Providencia) and the Rio Porce are all significant gold mining localities of east-central Antioquia. The Segovia belt has seen significant gold production through the placers derived from gold deposits in the northern area of the Central Cordillera.
The Remedios and Segovia districts were critical areas to gold production in Antioquia, while other historical gold-producing districts include Anori, Amalfi, Santa Rosa, Santo Domingo and San Roque and Titiribi, (averaging about $300,000 annually in the early 1900s).
The Middle Cauca belt holds more porphyry gold deposits, although some epithermal deposits can also be found in Marmota. Placer gold is also found in abundance in the San Juan-Atrato river valleys, while the departments of Caldas and Tolima also produced significant amounts of lode gold, although the latter is more known for silver.
Although The Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta Mountains, an independent mountain range that ranks as the highest coastal range in the world, reportedly hold a notable amount of gold. However, the area has remained largely unexplored due to the natives who protect the area.
The Guyana Shield can be found in the southeastern area of Colombia and trends across the northern coast of South America. However, gold exploration efforts are largely concentrated in the Andean region, what with sentiment describing the Colombian Andes as the “final frontier”, since the Andean areas in neighboring countries to the south have been explored thus far.
One of the leading emerging markets of the world, Colombia is among the top 10 largest coal-producing countries worldwide, and supplies 55% of the world’s emeralds. Despite these strengths, its mining industry remains fairly undeveloped in relation to the other sectors in the country.
Efforts to invest in and develop large-scale mining activities in the country have increased over the past 15 years, with various entities looking to take advantage of Colombia’s rich gold and nickel resources. Since 2000, roughly 85 million ounces of gold resources had been discovered in the country. One major undertaking is the La Colosa mining project under AngloGold Ashanti, which seeks to take advantage of the porphyry deposits in the Middle Cauca belt near Tolima.
In 2009, calculated reserves of the site were at about 12.9 million ounces. AngloGold is also exploring Antioquia through the Gramalote project, a joint venture with B2Gold. Colombian Mines (Yarumalito gold-copper project in Marmato) and Trident Gold (Marquesa property in northeast Antioquia) are two other major gold companies undertaking gold exploration in the country.