Real or Fool’s Gold? How Prospectors & Miners Tell the Difference

fool's gold or real goldIf you’ve recently started out in the amateur gold prospecting and panning hobby, then odds are that you’ll eventually come across what they call “fool’s gold.”  Fool’s gold is other minerals that can look like real gold to the untrained eye, but these minerals are comparatively worthless.  Fool’s gold can come in the form of pyrite, mica or other minerals, and plenty of would-be gold miners have been tricked by it, thinking they have struck it rich.

Luckily, there are some pretty simple ways to tell the difference between fool’s gold and real gold nuggets or flakes.

First of all, if the “gold” you have found was just sitting right on top of the ground, then it’s probably just fool’s gold.  You almost never find gold in the ground without digging, and there’s a simple reason why: gold is very heavy.  Over the aeons, gold tends to rest in the lowest place because of its weight.  You’ll usually have to use a metal detector to find any real buried nuggets, since gold likes to rest just above dense underground minerals, bedrock, limestone or clay.

This second tip might seem counter-intuitive, but it isn’t: if the mineral you have discovered glitters beautifully in the sunlight, then it probably isn’t gold.  Remember the old saying “all that glitters is not gold?”  Well, it’s true.  Fool’s gold like pyrite and mica might glitter in the sun, but the best way to identify gold is to look at it while it is shaded from the sun.  If the material keeps its luster and golden color in a shadow, then it’s real gold.  If it’s fool’s gold, then it will be dull and not have a golden color when it’s in the shade.

Finally, in order to determine if you have real gold or fool’s gold, you should consider sticking the material with a metal pin.  Gold is a very malleable material, which means it will dent or bend when you poke and press at it.  Fool’s gold won’t dent or bend when you stick a pin into it . . . it will only crumble or break.

With enough practice, you’ll be able to tell if something is real gold or fool’s gold just by glancing at it.  Fool’s gold has been tricking new prospectors and panners for hundreds of years, but experienced miners don’t have any trouble telling the real stuff from the fake stuff.