Argentina is the third largest producer of gold in South America, succeeding Peru and Brazil respectively. Even the name of Argentina gives a humble suggestion of the riches contained in the country. Argentina derives its name from the Latin word ‘argentum’, meaning silver. The word is associated with the legend of the silver mountains, which were popular with the European explorers of the La Plata Basin.
Argentina has over thirty volcanoes along the crest of the Andes Mountains. It is this violent geological activity that aided in the formation the many gold deposits in the country.
Richest Gold Mining Areas
Generally speaking, it is the western part of the country that borders Chile that is known to have the best gold concentrations. Large quantities of placer gold are found in the streams and rivers of the Andes Mountains. The gold deposits are very widespread and have not been exploited to their full potential.
The Andean mountain range not only contains gold, but also oil, copper, silver, lithium and zinc. Although not as storied as its counterparts, Argentina’s mineral history dates as far back as the 16th century. The Spanish search for silver along the Rio de la Plata put Argentina on the map.
The Tierra del Fuego gold rush and Julius Popper’s expedition in 1884 was a period of renewed mining interest, with natives moving south and various smelters cropping up across the country as a result. However, the drop in silver prices in the 1900s halted any true development to be had.
Any of the major rivers that drain from the heights of the Andes Mountains hold potential for placer gold deposits. The highest concentrations are most likely to occur near the headwaters at higher elevations to the west, before they reach the jungle. Salado River, Colorado River, Negro River, and Chubut Rivers, along with the countless creeks that feed into them are very likely to hold placer deposits.
On the eastern side of the puna de Atacama, a belt of quartz veins in quartzites, slates, and schists gives rise to placers from Rosario to Incahuasi. Pockets and veinlets in northern Jujuy were also recorded to have high values of gold, with Rinconada and Santa Catalina as districts of note.
Gold ores can be found in the Famatina district of La Rioja and in Valle Fertil in San Juan, while Chubut houses placer gold in the upper courses of the Tecka and Corcovado rivers as well as lakes Corcovado and Fontana. In Santa Cruz, gold washings were found near Cabo Virgenes, occurring in the black beach sands.
Placers can be found in the Cañada Honda locality in San Luis province, with gold nuggets as heavy as 5 oz. Rio de la Carpa and Cerritos Blancos are other placer producing localities. Gold-bearing pyrite can be found in Carolina, on the western slope of Cerro de Tomalasta. Various ores are also found in Cordoba, concentrated on the northern slopes of the Sierra Central, between Soto and Candelaria rivers.
Some of the placers in Argentina produce very high-grade crystalline gold specimens. These are most well documented at the Rio Neuquen, where specimens of nearly pure gold crystals have been recovered.
Argentina Mining Laws
Argentina had a significant change in its mining industry in recent history. In 1993, the country revised its mining laws, which in turn gave significant rise to the production of gold. Only 36,000 ounces of gold was reportedly produced in Argentina the year prior to this change, but this quickly increased to 1-million ounces of gold as more mines came into production. Considerably more is being mined today.
Argentina is the only country that has observed such a dramatic rise in the recent years. And not only this, Argentina’s domestic gold mining industry is booming and continuing to grow at a rapid rate.
Many other gold deposits are yet to be discovered in the Argentine region. The protectionist laws that limited gold mining activity in the country for so many years, essentially means that the country is a century behind its neighbors in exploration and development. There are considerable untapped gold reserves still waiting to be found in Argentina.
Most of the large-scale gold-mining projects of today are concentrated in the Santa Cruz and San Juan provinces.
One of the largest gold mines of Argentina is the Veladero gold mine. It is an open-pit gold mine, operated by Barrick Gold. The Veladero mine is located in the north-western part of Argentina’s San Juan Province of Frontera district. This largest gold mine of Argentina produced 1.12 million ounces of gold in 2010. The estimated mineral reserves of Veladero stand at approximately 11.3 million ounces of gold.
The second largest gold mine in Argentina is the Pascua-Lama, situated in the Frontera district at the border of Chile and Argentina. It is only 10 kilometers away from the Veladero gold mine. The Pascua-Lama gold mine has estimated reserves of 17.8 million ounces of gold and 671 million ounces of silver.
Apart from these two gold mines, there is the open-pit Gualcamayo gold mine owned by Yamana Gold. This mine is located in the northern San Juan province of Argentina. The commercial production of gold in the Gualcamayo mine began in 2009 and in 2010 the underground QDD Lower West deposit was developed.
Yamana Gold also owns the Alumbrera mine with the partnership of Xstrata Plc. and Goldcorp. This operation, beginning in 1997, is one of the world’s largest gold and copper mining projects.
Another gold mine in Argentina is the Cerro Moro mine, owned by Extorre Gold. It is located in the Santa Cruz Province of Argentina, that is, 130 kilometres away from the Cerro Vanguardia gold-silver mine. The Cerro Moro gold mine was discovered in 2006 by the Exeter Resource Corporation. The Cerro Vanguardia mine, situated in the Santa Cruz province (north-west to the Puerto San Julian), is owned by Anglo Gold Ashanti and Fomicruz. It produced almost 194,000 ounces of gold in the year 2010 and was regarded as Anglo Gold Ashanti’s lowest cost producer of 2010.
In 2010, Troy Resources also opened its Casposo gold-silver mine in Argentina. It produced approximately 4,414 ounces of gold in 2011.
Argentinian mineral exploration remains in its infancy relative to its neighbors, who have had much of their resources exhausted throughout the centuries. As such, this puts Argentina on the map as one of the biggest mineral opportunities of today.