Brazil has one of the largest gold reserves in the world. The majority of it is located in the north of Brazil, mainly in the Amazon region and in states such as Pará, Amazonas, Macapa, Minas Gerais, Rondonia and Acre. In this site we will emphasize on one such gold region, called "Tapajos Gold Reserve" which is located near the river banks of one of the Amazon River's tributaries.

In 1958 a prospector found gold in one tributary of the Tapajos River. This discovery triggered the largest gold rush in Brazil's history. In a few years the region was flooded with more than 250,000 gold prospectors.

These men started a major gold exploration, panning most of the streams in the region. During the early stages these gold prospectors had settled near the navigable rivers. Consequently the area surrounding the Tapajos River was developed first.

Small villages rapidly developed into towns. It was the golden age of Tapajos. From the 60's to the 80's the whole Tapajos region was controlled and ruled by gold prospectors (called garimpeiros in Portuguese). Gold production figures are difficult to be estimated since it was impossible to control the hundreds of airplanes flying in and out of the mining sites. Figures vary from 15 Moz to 40 Moz of gold from 1982 to 1996.

Each gold producing district had at least one landing strip, which was used as the main access to the garimpo, as well as being the only door to the outside world. The garimpos (or mining sites) had turned into small working communities controlled by a local owner. He had a tight grip on the landing strips, road acess, trading and movement of his little community. In the mea time gold prices had skyrocketed, inflated by the premium paid in the Brazilian black market. In a short time a new generation of wealthy men was forged. Ex-"garimpeiros" had turned into rich and prosperous "Gold Barons".

A few of them had founded their own mining companies. Others had evolved into timber producers ("madeireiros"). But the overwhelming majority continued their panning activities with obsolete mining methods.

In the begining, gold was extracted only in the rivers and creakbeds. This alluvial gold was found in abundance there. The "garimpeiros" used hydraulics and some dredging as their basic mining methods. Alluvial river beds were divided into little areas (10 x 10 m), called "barrancos". These sites were selected randomly by the owner and were then mined by the unexperienced garimpeiros. There was no planning for waste disposal or for any enviromental concerns. As a result, riverbeds were devastated and mercury polluted the environment.

In the early 90's the Tapajos gold production had plunged into all time lows, and the garimpeiro's society fell apart. Several factors contributed to the fall of Tapajos' garimpos. The main one was that alluvial gold was becoming scarce. The second one was the lack of knowledge about gold production. There was little technical support, coupled with a poor understanding of the geological aspects of gold deposits. Add to this bad management, grade dilution due to poor waste disposal, higher operating costs, lower gold prices and no government support.

At the mid 90's, two major changes had marked the region:
  • The first one was that garimpeiros who had became land owners were willing to negotiate their areas with mining companies due to the problems discussed earlier.
  • The second major change was that many of them had switched from alluvial prospecting to primary mining. The overall scenario was, again, changed.

Rio Tinto Zinc was the first major company to start a serious exploration program in Tapajos and to deal with the garimpeiros. In less than a year, RTZ had discovered 2 small to medium size gold deposits. At the same time, hundreds of new primary gold mineralizations were discovered and a new era started for Tapajos. World class gold deposits like Ouro Roxo (250,000 oz) and São Jorge (1.5 Moz) were found in the region.

Following Rio Tinto's example several Brazilian and foreign companies have made their mineral agreements. This fact demonstrated that a peaceful and productive relationship could be established with the garimpeiros who started to organize themselves in Cooperatives (AMOT).

During the late 90's, exploration investments had increased sharply in the region and several major discoveries of "World Class" sites were found. During the same time, the entire gold province of Tapajos was researched, mapped and classified by satellite and airborne geophysics methods.

In 1997 Tapajos' mining exploration boom was over. Exploration money became scarce as a result of the stock exchange turmoil. Most junior and major companies with little to show closed their exploration programs and abandoned Tapajos. However, in 1998, a new and very significant discovery was made in the region - layers from the Protozoic age containing several world class deposits.

The gold region of Tapajos was quite stable and uneventful until 2008 when a recession had hit the US and other major world economies. As a result, gold prices surged from US$ 22,000 per kilo to about US$ 30,000 per kilo in less than 6 months. Gold prices, yet again, had ignited a new gold rush in Brazil.

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