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The Midas Chunk

USC earth scientists analyze one of the world's largest gold nuggets, disproving the adage that all that glitters is not gold.

GOLD FEVER was briefly back in California last April, when USC scientists confirmed that a 56-pound nugget belonging to an Australian prospector was 80 to 90 percent high-purity gold.
“This is among the largest naturally occurring pieces of gold ever found,” says earth scientist Jean Morrison, who was asked to assay the nugget. The largest gold nugget believed to exist today is the Hand of Faith, a 61-pound specimen on display at the Golden Nugget casino in Las Vegas.
The newfound nugget, which the owner has dubbed the “King of the West,” comes from a dry stream bed in the eastern gold fields of Western Australia.
The miner, who understandably wishes to remain anonymous, has since found other nuggets associated with the King of the West; he plans to bring these also to USC for analysis.

SPECIFIC GRAVITY measurements done at USC indicate that 10 to 20 percent of this nugget is composed of hematite breccia, an iron-rich sedimentary rock. The rest is almost entirely gold. “It’s so bright that you think it can’t be real,” Morrison says. “But then, 56 pounds of real gold looks fake.”
If melted down, Morrison estimates the gold in the King of the West would be worth roughly $300,000. Intact, the rare nugget could fetch several times that amount at Sotheby’s, where it’s slated to go on the block.
How do you keep a 56-pound glob of gold safe? At various times the prospector reports stashing it “under my bed and under the kitchen floor.” While at USC, he kept a vigilant eye on his prize as a stream of research faculty, students and staff dropped by to take a look. When one of them knocked the precious rock over in an attempt to pick it up, the startled prospector yelped “crikey!” (that’s Australian for “keep your hands off of my gold!”)

– Bob Calverley

Photo by Rick Toomin.
Courtesy of Baywather

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