Gold in the Black Hills, South Dakota, and how new deposits might be found
Of the recorded production of 34,694,552 troy ounces of gold mined in South Dakota through 1971, about 90 percent has come from Precambrian ore bodies in the Homestake mine at Lead in the northern Black Hills. Most of the rest has come from ore deposited in the Deadwood Formation (Cambrian) by hydrothermal replacement during early Tertiary igneous activity. About 99 percent of the total production has been within a radius of 5 miles (8 km) of Lead. Elsewhere, prospecting has been intense, both in the Precambrian rocks, which are exposed over an area 61 by 26 miles (98 by 42 km), and in nearby Paleozoic rocks.
All the known ore bodies have been found either at the surface or in subsurface workings of operating mines. Efforts to find totally new deposits have been modest and sporadic; no comprehensive and systematic program has ever been attempted.
Obviously, any exploration program should be aimed at finding a new deposit resembling the Homestake in the Precambrian, but discovery in the Deadwood of a new group of ore bodies containing several hundred thousand ounces of gold would certainly be worthwhile.
Evidence has long been available that the Deadwood deposits and the Homestake deposit are somehow related. Current opinion is that (1) the Homestake ore is mainly Precambrian, (2) a trivial amount of Homestake ore is Tertiary, (3)gold in Deadwood basal conglomerate is largely of placer origin, and (4) the gold of replacement deposits in the Deadwood and in other rock units came originally from sources similar to the Homestake deposit or its parent materials.
Homestake ore is virtually entirely contained in a unit of iron-formation locally known as the Homestake Formation, which seemingly had more gold in the original sediments than similar rocks exposed elsewhere in the Black Hills. Gold, sulfur, and other constituents were subsequently concentrated in ore shoots in zones of dilation caused by cross folds that deformed earlier major folds. These ore shoots are in metamorphic rocks of a grade just above the garnet isograd, in a zone where the principal iron-magnesium mineral of the iron-formation changes from a carbonate (sideroplesite) to a silicate (cummingtonite). This metamorphic reaction would release carbon dioxide to the fluid that presumably formed the ore bodies.
In short, three controls over localization of the ore have been identified: (1) the cross folds; (2) the so-called Homestake Formation, which passes beneath Paleozoic rocks north of Lead and has not been proved to reappear anywhere else in the Black Hills (Other units of iron-formation less enriched in gold might locally become more like the Homestake Formation beneath the cover of Paleozoic rocks.}; (3} proximity to the garnet isograd--nearly all the exposed Precambrian rocks in the Black Hills are at a metamorphic grade higher than this isograd--and occurrence of this isograd zone mostly beneath Paleozoic rocks.
In searching for new deposits, one can guess from existing data where Precambrian rocks of suitable nature may be concealed. The usefulness of such guesses can be increased if they are made with information about the distribution of gold in younger rocks. Gold in the Deadwood basal conglomerate would be the simplest indicator of a deposit once exposed on the pre-Deadwood surface. Tertiary replacement deposits in the Deadwood or other rocks, which obtained their gold from Precambrian sources that may be nearby or far away, can also be helpful; they, like anomalies found by geochemical sampling, at least outline the regions of mineralizing activity.
A suitable approach to exploration is to make a thorough study of the stratigraphy, the structure, and the metals geochemistry of the Deadwood Formation and associated rocks, chiefly in the northern Black Hills but to a lesser extent elsewhere in localities where the Precambrian geology seems promising and where gold has been found nearby. Such a program, even if it does not yield
|Gold in the Black Hills, South Dakota, and how new deposits might be found
|James Jennings Norton
|USGS Numbered Series
|USGS Publications Warehouse