The Top 5 Most Memorable Mining Finds

If you’re looking for a get-rich-quick scheme, mining for precious stones and minerals should probably be somewhere on the list above launching the next Facebook, but below winning the lottery. Most miners end up with black lung and ruined joints long before they end up rich; for every success story of the 1849 California gold rush, there were several thousand tales of abject misery. Brief booms usually preceded total busts in times gone by, and the same is true with speculative mining today. This doesn’t mean no one has ever struck it rich, it just means you probably won’t—that’s all!

5 The Most Productive Goldmines of All Time

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It is estimated that fully 40% of all the gold ever mined came out of the mines in the Witwatersrand Basin near Johannesburg, South Africa. While today, production in this area has fallen off by nearly 90% from its heyday in the 1970s, the Witwatersrand mines remain impressive both from a historical and a technical perspective. Some of the mines reach more than two miles deep into the earth!

4 The Largest Uranium Exporter on Earth

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Sure, Borat lampooned Kazakhstan pretty unmercifully in the eponymous film from 2006, but this large Central Asian country has at least one jewel in its crown… Uranium! Fully one third of the world’s supply of this valuable element comes from Kazakhstan. Uranium can be used to make everything from atomic weapons to extremely dense ammunition to fancy glassware that glows under UV lights!

3 The Largest Silver Nugget

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History’s largest ever silver nugget was pulled out of Smuggler Mine near the city of Aspen, Colorado. Back in 1894, Aspen was known for mining, not skiing and overpriced dining, you see. The massive piece of silver in question weighed well over 2,300 pounds! It yielded more than 1,840 pounds of pure silver once refined. Today, it would be worth nearly a million dollars US.

2 The “Welcome Stranger” Gold Nugget

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The largest gold nugget ever found was not a product of the California Gold Rush nor did it come from an African mine. Rather it was found near Victoria, Australia. The year was 1869, the two men who shared credit for the find (and likely needed to change their pants thereafter) were John Deason and Richard Oates. The gold “nugget” these two men unearthed weighed a whopping 171 pounds! In 2013 dollars, this hunk of metal would sell for around 3.8 million dollars. We’d welcome that stranger into our lives anytime.

1 The Cullinan Diamond

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The Cullinan Diamond was largest gem-quality diamond ever found. Before being cut into smaller stones, it weighed almost a pound and a half. Think about the size of the stone in an average engagement ring. Now think about this: the Cullinan Diamond, which was found in 1905 in a South African mine, would be worth nearly two billion dollars in today’s currency. The largest stone cut from this gigantic diamond, the 530 carat Cullinan I, AKA the “Great Star of Africa,” is now perched atop the Scepter with the Cross, AKA the fancy stick the king or queen of England gets to wave around.

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