Gem hunter confident of finds

He believes county in rural North Carolina is rich with precious metals

July 11, 2002|By Hannah Mitchell | Hannah Mitchell,KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

HIDDENITE, N.C. - Stop the world and let Jamie Hill off.

The Alexander County, N.C., man who's famous for finding giant emeralds on his property now says that he has found gold and other valuable metals in the rock he mines for the gems.

Hill, who found two large emeralds at his mine in January and an 88-carat crystal in 1998, says the rock where the gems hide contains gold, platinum and palladium. He hopes it can bring fortune to this rural county of farms and small furniture factories.

Geologists cautious

Geologists say Hill's find seems significant. But they caution that more study has to be done to see whether the precious metals are concentrated and widespread enough for commercial mining.

"He may be on to something very unusual here," said John Bender, a mineralogist at the University of North Carolina in Charlotte who has visited Hill's mine, "but it will take a lot more drilling and sampling to find out."

The professionals' counsel doesn't cool Hill's enthusiasm for his new pursuit, though. He talked recently about his visions of a gold rush and an economic boon in Alexander County, about 50 miles northwest of Charlotte. He even dreams of a Red Lobster restaurant here.

"I hope every farm around here is just saturated in it," Hill said. "We've got a giant treasure chest in this county."

The hometown man's latest adventure started about two months ago as he and his mining team blasted through rock looking for emeralds. Their equipment coughed up shards that glittered in the sun. "It looked immediately like it could be gold," Hill said.

Hill summoned geologists, who told him what he saw was pyrite, commonly known as "fool's gold." It looked like the real thing but wasn't.

But at the experts' advice, Hill sent the rock to a lab for analysis.

Palladium, too

Based on the test results, Hill said, the sample contained high concentrations of gold, as well as platinum and palladium, rare precious metals. Palladium is often used as an alloy with mixtures of silver or gold.

The results, if accurate, are significant, because platinum and palladium aren't typically found in the rock types of Hiddenite, said Michael Wise, a mineralogist at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington.

Neither are those metals and gold usually found with emeralds. The discovery, he said, could "force some rethinking of the geology of that part of North Carolina" and of how the Appalachian Mountains formed.

Even the preliminary results excite Hill, who plans to drill the rock and send off more test samples.

"If we hadn't found the minerals, we would have sold the rock for gravel," he said.

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